The Baltimore Ravens—the Cincinnati Bengals’ youngest division rival—have been evenly matched with Cincinnati on the football field over the last quarter century.
History is still certainly prevalent here. The Ravens, who were the original Cleveland Browns started by Paul Brown, employed Marvin Lewis as their defensive coordinator when they won their first Super Bowl in 2000. Long before that, Brown lost his team to Art Modell in 1963 and Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore five years after Brown’s death in 1991.
Lewis ended up coaching the Bengals for 16 years after getting his ring with the Ravens (and a one-year stint with Washington) and succeeded pretty regularly against his old team. The tide started to turn in recent years as the Ravens have upset the balance in this rivalry, and have forced the Bengals to change the way they draft.
Bengals vs. Ravens
Regular season series: Ravens lead 25-23
Postseason Series: 0-0
Longest streak: Ravens, 6 (1998–2000)
Current Streak: Ravens, 3
Last five seasons: Series tied 5-5
Against longtime starting quarterback Joe Flacco, the series leaned in the Bengals’ favor. The Bengals went 11-9 against Flacco, who threw for 211 yards per game, 21 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, and a rating of 72.6 against the Bengals. Flacco’s yards per game, touchdown to interception ratio, and passer rating (234, 218:141, and 84.1, respectively) were all lower against the Bengals than they were against all opponents in his career.
In 2018, the Bengals entered the season with the all time series tied and won the first game that season against Flacco. But in their second matchup, the Ravens started rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the series took a turn towards Baltimore.
Since then, Jackson is 3-0 against the Bengals and led the Ravens to their first series sweep since 2011.
Not only have the Ravens taken control of the Bengals’ rivalry, but they have a stranglehold over the entire division. All other AFC North teams have realized that they need to be able to stop Baltimore if they want to reach the playoffs.
The Bengals reflected this realization in the draft, when they took Joe Burrow, a quarterback who can go toe-to-toe with Jackson on offense. They also let go of some of their prototypical style linebackers, like Preston Brown and Nick Vigil. The Bengals replaced them with more athletic linebackers, like Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Logan Wilson, and Markus Bailey. They also signed Josh Bynes, a former Raven of four total seasons, to mentor the young position group.
The hope is that these linebackers can limit Jackson’s rushing abilities and take away one of the best parts of his game.
This may not be enough to upend the Ravens. Like Cincinnati, Baltimore’s biggest weakness at the time of the draft was linebacker. Miraculously, Patrick Queen, who many considered the best linebacker in the 2020 class, fell to the Ravens. One the best teams in the NFL in 2019 got even better.
With Burrow in his first year in the league, and half of the Bengals’ defense in their first year in the system, the Bengals are still facing an uphill climb. It may be a few years before the Bengals level the series again.