Early Division Lead on the Line

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The Ravens didn't take long to turn the page from their first loss of the year last weekend to their upcoming opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.

But according to head coach John Harbaugh, that is something the team must do every week, win or lose.

"We're looking forward to playing the Bengals," Harbaugh said. "Whether we won the last game or lost the last game, it really doesn't matter. You try to take the emotions and put them aside and learn the lessons that we can learn from whatever happened in the game – and there are plenty of them in this game – and see if we can become a better team.

"We're going to have to be a better team than we were last week to have a chance to beat this team we're playing this week."

While every contest is equally important to the overall record, playing a divisional opponent has slightly higher stakes.

The Bengals (3-1) enter M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday with a share of the AFC North lead. A Ravens win would solely claim the top spot for Baltimore, which has also beaten the division-rival Cleveland Browns.

Still, Harbaugh believes it is too early to talk about first place in the division.

"It's not important," he said. "First place at the end of the season is what matters. We want to go 1-0 this week just like we always do, and it's going to have repercussions throughout the whole season like they always do. And therefore, it's a really important game."

The Ravens are not undervaluing a Cincinnati squad that has been disappointing in recent years.

Since quarterback Carson Palmer blew his knee out in the 2005 playoffs after winning the division, the Bengals have finished 8-8 in 2006, 7-9 in '07 and 4-11-1 in '08.

The 2009 version of the Bengals has proven that it should be taken seriously through three gutty wins and a loss that came down to a fluke 87-yard touchdown from Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley with 11 second left.

Much of that has hinged on Palmer's elbow, which limited him to only four games last year. It also has to do with the return of talented linebacker Keith Rivers, who was knocked out for the season with a broken jaw after seven contests, and the rejuvenation of NFL sack co-leader Antwan Odom (eight sacks, tied with Denver's Elvis Dumervil).

"You see a very healthy team," noted Harbaugh. "This is a team that we said last year going into the second game that we had a lot of respect for. They were a talented, hard-playing team at the time. We said going into the opener last year, I think they were like a 12-point favorite, they were a tremendously talented team last year coming into the opener. So, they're no different.

"They're just better than they were a year ago in terms of their talent and they're healthy. And obviously, they're on a roll. It's a really good team with a lot of talent, playing very hard. They're tied for first in the [division]."

A Baltimore win on Sunday could change that, not to mention give the Ravens one-game tiebreaker leads over the Bengals and Browns.

In a division as tough as the AFC North, those are precious.

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