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50 Words or Less: The Calm Before the Storm

ILB Roquan Smith
ILB Roquan Smith

When the Ravens and Bengals square off Sunday at Paycor Stadium, it's a chance for Baltimore to take an early two-game lead over its AFC North rival and an opportunity for the Bengals to rebound from an ugly Week 1 loss and show the Ravens they're still the top divisional dog. 

Here are my thoughts, all in 50 words of less: 

The Ravens and Bengals played nice all week in the buildup for this game. Asked about the Bengals' Week 1 dud, the Ravens again and again said they know the Bengals are better than that showed. No reason to provide bulletin board material to a team looking for a pick-me-up. 

With that said, you better bet these two teams will get after it between the lines Sunday. Yes, Ravens-Bengals has surpassed the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, at least for now. That's what happens when you meet in the playoffs. It ratchets things up.

The Ravens felt they were the better team in last year's Wild-Card playoff loss, even without Lamar Jackson. One fluky play turned the game. Even with four starters ruled out this time, plus J.K. Dobbins lost for the year, the Ravens want to prove they're still the better team again.

Roquan Smith is built for this rivalry. Look at his face (pictured above) and it will tell you all you need to know. I'm not sure there's been another Raven since Ray Lewis who has such a drastic switch flip from nice guy during the week to madman on Sundays.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Ravens that injuries keep leaving them short-handed against their rival. But would it be asking too much to have just one game – just one – where both teams are full strength? I want to know what's in that watery Skyline Chili.

Sorry fantasy owners, but the Ravens aren't going to have a clear No. 1 running back in the wake of Dobbins' injury. I expect Gus Edwards and Justice Hill will see comparable touches moving forward. It could be game specific, and Edwards' physicality suits a rugged AFC North game.

In Week 1, Zay Flowers proved the preseason hype surrounding him was all legit. However, I wouldn't expect him to dominate such a large percentage of the Ravens' target share moving forward. Flowers will continue to be a primary target, but Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman will get more.

A major part of containing Joe Burrow last season (a high of 217 passing yards) was keeping a lid on big plays. I'm hard pressed to think Marcus Williams, the Ravens' ball-hawking free safety, didn't play a sizeable role in that. Geno Stone's assignment seems clear. Nothing over the top.

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