Division titles aren't decided in Week 8.
But Sunday's game against the Bengals at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium could go a long way in determining who ends up as the AFC North champion.
The Ravens have lost back-to-back games to the Bengals, but Baltimore is hot right now and looking to give themselves some cushion in the standings.
Here are some things to watch as the division rivals face off Sunday:
Pass Rush Getting After Dalton
In the first meeting this season, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had all day to throw. The Ravens didn't even get a hit on Dalton in the opener, and he capitalized by having one of his best games of the season. The Ravens have to change that Sunday. The pass rush has ramped up recently, and the Ravens have 10 sacks in the last two games. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee have been feasting on quarterbacks, and they will be hungry to keep Dalton from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Baltimore's secondary has come on strong lately, as Jimmy Smith has developed into one of the best cornerbacks the game. Veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb missed the opener against the Bengals, but he's back to full strength and starting to play like his old self. A heavy rotation of safeties has also helped the Ravens on the back end of the defense. Overall, the secondary is much improved from the first game against the Bengals, and the group is better equipped to contain the Bengals potent offense. Even if dynamic wide receiver A.J. Green is able to play, the Ravens have the talent to run with him and limit the big plays.
Run, Pass Balance
The Ravens came out throwing in the opener against Cincinnati. Quarterback Joe Flacco tied a career high with 62 passing attempts, and the Ravens finished with just 91 yards on the ground. Don't expect that kind of game plan this week. The Ravens have proven the ability to pound the ball on the ground with running back Justin Forsett, and they will look to establish the ground game. The Ravens will likely give the Bengals a heavy dose of Forsett, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 503 yards this year. The Bengals also have the league's 30th ranked run defense by giving up an average of 146.3 yards per game. If Baltimore is able to have success on the ground, thenthat will open big plays in the passing game and limit the opportunities for Cincinnati's explosive offense.
Winning the turnover battle is often a good way to ensure winning a football game in the NFL, and that's definitely the case this week. The Ravens turned the ball over twice in the 23-16 loss earlier this season, compared to no turnovers by the Bengals. That's been the case all season for the Bengals, who have a plus-four turnover margin on the year (fifth best in the NFL). The last time the Ravens played in Cincinnati they intercepted Dalton five times, and getting even close to that number would put Baltimore in a good spot for a win.
Anything Suspicious From Burfict
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has proven to be one of the best in the game at his position, but he also has the reputation of a taking some cheap shots on the field. Burfict was recently fined $25,000 by the NFL for twisting the ankles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen after tackles. The NFL already has eyes on Burfict for the ankle-twisting shenanigans, and the Ravens will certainly want to ensure that nothing similar happens this week.