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The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are set to face off in Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season, taking the field in the Queen City on Sunday, September 17. While the playoffs may feel like a long way off before the season even begins, the two teams are expected to finish No. 2 and No. 1 respectively in the AFC North division this season: how this matchup turns out could play a pivotal role in which team stands victorious when the dust settles.
Here’s a look at how the two teams are expected to stack up this season, with storylines to keep an eye on before the game kicks off.
Sizing Up the Opposition: Ravens
After doing what they could to remedy the issues that have plagued them for much of superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson’s tenure, the Ravens could be an excellent dark horse threat to win the AFC North division this year. Now-departed offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s run-heavy scheme got stale in a hurry, and the front office’s failure to surround Jackson with competent receivers meant that the 2019 NFL MVP was forced to do far too much, putting the team on his back—and, all too often, his body on the line—as he tried to drag subpar rosters kicking and screaming to a playoff spot.
Following an offseason circus as the team signed Jackson to a long-term contract, they’ve done what they can to bolster the team around him. First, they brought in offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who helped guide the Georgia Bulldogs to back to back national championships and knows how to get the best out of star athletes with explosive chunk plays.
Next, they improved the weapons Jackson has to throw to, selecting wide receiver Zay Flowers in the first round of the draft and adding veteran standout Odell Beckham Jr. and streaky speedster Nelson Agholor to the mix as well.
On defense, they lost the big play ability of Marcus Peters (but added much needed consistency, as Peters’ penchant for interceptions came with a propensity for getting burned deep) but brought in Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive line. They also brought in consistent corners Rock Ya-Sin and Trayvon Mullen: after seeing their secondary get riddled with injuries for the past few seasons, the Ravens didn’t pull any punches boosting up the back end of their defense.
For the Ravens, what it all comes down to is preparation. There could be some growing pains as Monken gets the team used to his unique brand of offense—although he does what he can to make his scheme user friendly for his players—and if that’s what does end up happening, the Bengals could feast on a team that’s still trying to figure out how to play together.
That goes both ways, though, as Monken could make Cincy look silly if he reaches into his bag of tricks for plays the Bengals aren’t prepared for.
Ready for some excitement? The clash of AFC North division rivals is gearing up, promising high-stakes action. And if local Bengals fans want to get in on the action, be sure to claim the sportsbook promos here
Sizing Up the Home Team: Bengals
Throughout the past month and change, the main storyline surrounding the Bengals dealt with the health of superstar quarterback Joe Burrow. The ice-cold signal caller missed most of training camp and all of the preseason with a calf injury, one that saw him get carted off the field when it occurred, causing a collective heart attack around the greater Cincinnati area.
At first it looked like the injury might cost him regular season games, but the fourth-year man out of LSU is reportedly full go in practice this week ahead of the Bengals’ Week 1 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Even so, you never like to hear that a star player is dealing with any type of injury. Burrow is as tough as they come, and one hopes that he’s given himself adequate time to heal. Former LSU teammate and current top target Ja’Marr Chase said that he wouldn’t mind if Burrow sits out the first month of the season, ensuring he’s fully healthy for the stretch run, but it would take an army to keep that quarterback from playing the game he loves.
Just as the Ravens’ Week 1 game against the Houston Texans will give a good preview of how the team fares under their new offensive coordinator, the Bengals’ matchup with the Browns will give us an excellent idea of just how Burrow is feeling, if he’s legitimately fully healthy or continuing to grit it out through the pain.
Who Ya Got?
Right now, the Bengals are listed as a 3.5 point favorite to win their matchup with the Ravens. Given that the home team usually gets a three point handicap by virtue of home field advantage, that shows you just how close of a matchup this is expected to be.
I’m not going to make any friends among the passionate Bengals’ fan base by saying this, but I’m giving the Ravens the advantage in this one. Preparation matters, and the fact of the matter is that the Bengals lost out on valuable practice and live reps with their No. 1 quarterback during all of the time that Burrow missed with injury. Cincinnati faces a much tougher opponent to open the season than Baltimore does, and an already-banged up Joe Burrow could have trouble bouncing back after getting chased around by all-world defensive end Myles Garrett all weekend long: the Ravens, on the other hand, can test out their new scheme and put it in cruise control against a dismal Texans team, keeping themselves high and dry as they prepare for the game against the Bengals.
After seeing Jackson serve as a one man wrecking crew on poorly constructed rosters for much of the past half decade, I’m excited to see what the phenomenal dual threat quarterback can do with a team and offense that compliments his abilities instead of relying on them. The Ravens are always going to be a nightmare to face under head coach John Harbaugh, and I think they’re an excellent chance to win the division this year with a revitalized team around Jackson.