Today, the Ravens travel to Cincinnati for the second straight week, this time with much higher stakes.
The first-ever playoff meeting between the Ravens and Bengals has plenty of spice, and it will make for a tasty game Sunday night at 8:15 p.m.
Here my thoughts on the wild-card game, all in 50 words or less:
The buildup of this game reminds me of classic Ravens-Steelers slugfests. This AFC North rivalry is reaching a boil. Gus Edwards said he wants to prove a point: "I feel like there's been a lot of chatter on that side and we're going to let our pads do the talking."
Edwards isn't the only Ravens RB frothing. J.K. Dobbins went through a lot, physically and mentally, to get to this point. With Lamar Jackson out and the run game the offense's strength, Dobbins could be the featured star. He rises to the occasion. I smell a big day coming.
The Ravens' regular-season finale wasn't dirty. It was bully ball that the Bengals clearly didn't like. It was reminiscent of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team. Not saying this defense is at that level, but it is carrying a similar swagger. Now can it get to a similar level?
Baltimore's defense is one of just two (also Bears) in the NFL that did not score a point this season – no touchdowns, no safeties. That's despite the Ravens being tied for eighth in takeaways. To say Baltimore is due would be an understatement. If there was ever a time …
What a week for Roquan Smith. On Monday, his Georgia Bulldogs won the college football national title. On Tuesday, he got a record-setting contract. On Wednesday, he was named the team MVP. On Thursday, the AFC Defensive Player of the Month. On Friday, a first-team All-Pro. One more prize left.
Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Justin Madubuike, who finished tied for the second-most sacks on the Ravens defense (5.5), are difference-makers to watch. The Bengals already lost right tackle La'el Collins and ruled out right guard Alex Cappa. Offensive line issues were Cincinnati's downfall last year.
Early momentum will be huge in this game. If the Bengals jump out to a lead, it's going to be difficult for the Ravens without Jackson and a thin wide receiver corps to mount a substantial comeback. Baltimore needs to run the ball well early and ride that.
No matter if it's Tyler Huntley under center or Anthony Brown, they have to avoid turnovers for the Ravens to win. Huntley offers more as a runner, but Brown showed off a powerful arm last week. They both are capable of making plays but have to avoid negative ones.
Another thing the Ravens have to avoid is costly penalties. There will be plenty of emotion in this game and it got chippy last week with far lower stakes. The Bengals talked this week about having an answer for last week's perceived dirty play. Don't get baited in The Jungle.
Nobody picked the Ravens to win this game but anything can happen in a playoff game between divisional rivals that know each other. The Ravens must execute their formula to perfection: strong running game, strong defense, win the turnover battle, score TDs in the red zone. They can do it.