Bengals: 'They Don't Like Us, We Don't Like Them'
The Cincinnati Bengals are bracing for it.
They expect a hostile environment when they visit M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens' home opener Sunday.
Baltimore finally gets its first regular-season game in friendly home confines. It's been a full month since Ravens Nation has been able to lend support; the last time being a meaningless preseason contest. And in between it all, the Ravens stayed out West for two weeks and returned with an 0-2 record.
"Needless to say, the Ravens will have a lot to play for this weekend," wrote ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey. "And their fans likely will be glad to finally see them playing inside familiar haunts."
The Bengals know this is not like any other game. This is a division grudge match, making the stakes higher, and the Ravens' backs are against the wall.
"I'm going to look at it as any other game, but this is a division game," Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick told Harvey. "They don't like us and we don't like them. So I know it's going to be ramped up."
To help dig out of a winless hole, the Ravens sure could use some of that M&T magic. Under Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have the NFL's second-best home mark since 2008 with a .804 win percentage. Only the Patriots beat it.
Baltimore has also won eight of its last nine home openers, which bodes well for the team this weekend. But can you guess who spoiled the one opening game over the last seven years? Yup, the Bengals. Last season, Cincinnati topped the Ravens, 23-16, in Week 1.
In fact, the Bengals have won the last three meetings between the two clubs, including a two-game sweep last year. Despite having the Ravens' number recently, and despite the Ravens' last two losses, the Bengals refuse to be lulled into feeling like a win is a given.
"Their record doesn't show what type of team they are," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're going to get their best show and we know that."
Both Dalton and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco are two major factors to why Baltimore has faltered in its last three Bengals meetings. Dalton has cut down on his interceptions, going from seven in first five games against Baltimore to just one in the last two meetings.
Meanwhile, Flacco hasn't played like to his usual self against Cincy. In 14 career games against the Bengals, he's thrown 13 touchdowns to 18 interceptions with a low average quarterback rating of 69.6.
"Yes, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has had Flacco’s number," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "The Ravens and Flacco badly need to reverse that trend."
But Flacco also raises his game when his back is against the wall. Sunday's matchup may not be a must-win (see below for explanation), but the Ravens and Flacco feel a sense of urgency. They don't want to fall to 0-3 for the first time in team history.
And they have stop the fall against a division foe that would love nothing more than to kick the Ravens while they're down, and take a stranglehold on the division lead.
"One thing stays the same: the Ravens don't like the Bengals, and the Bengals don't like them, either," wrote Harvey. "Cincinnati's gauntlet continues."
Why Sunday Isn't A Must-Win Game
First off, of course this a big game. Going a little further, it's fair to say the Ravens badly need this win.
A loss would look especially grim considering just three NFL teams since 1990 have made the postseason after starting 0-3.
It's just that it's possible the Ravens lose Sunday and still have a decent chance of recovering down the road, says Zrebiec. That's because, based on the way the schedule was set up with front-loaded road games, there's time to recover.
"T]aking a little broader view, I think the [Ravens will be in OK shape if they come out of their next three games – at home against the Bengals, on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and at home against the Cleveland Browns – with two victories," wrote Zrebiec.
That would put the Ravens at 2-3, needing to at least split the next two West Coast games in San Francisco and Arizona. Before the season even started, nobody would have flinched if the Ravens came out of the brutal first seven games at 3-4.
That's because they would then get three home games against the San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams to regain some leverage, followed by road games in Cleveland and Miami, where the Ravens have won in the past.
"All along, the middle part of the schedule is where the Ravens figured to make up some ground after such a tough start," wrote Zrebiec.
"Obviously, all of this doesn't matter one bit if the Ravens don't start playing better. After all, losing to the Oakland Raiders and starting 0-2 gives them little-to-no margin of error the rest of the way."
There are opposing views to the one that Zrebiec holds.
Both ESPN's Jamison Hensley and NBC's Cris Collinsworth believe the Ravens can only realistically make the playoffs by beating the Bengals.
My take? Let's just hope the Ravens don't test Zrebiec's theory.
Week 3 Power Rankings
All the media outlets below say the Ravens are a below average team after losing to the Oakland Raiders, who interestingly still rank below Baltimore in just about media' power rankings.
CBS Sports: No. 15 (dropped six spots from last week)
"Their season is off to a horrible start. The defense was horrible against the Raiders. Now what? Hard to believe they are 0-2." -- Pete Prisco
Yahoo! Sports: No. 16 (dropped nine spots)
"Tight end Crockett Gillmore had five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. At least there was some positive out of Sunday. It wasn't giving up 37 points to the Raiders." -- Frank Schwab
ESPN: No. 17 (dropped five spots)
"The Ravens are off to their first 0-2 start since 2005. But both losses were to AFC West teams, against whom the Ravens have now lost five straight."
Bleacher Report: No. 17 (dropped three spots)
"An 0-2 start isn't ideal, but it's not impossible to overcome. It will be far more difficult if the Ravens fall three games behind the Bengals in the AFC North." -- Brent Sobleski
Sporting News: No. 19 (dropped five spots)
"The Joe Flacco Elite Tour hasn't looked so special, as they still need to do a lot of sound checks for Marc Trestman's offense to click. Unfortunately, it's coming at a time when their defense is unplugged without Terrell Suggs." -- Vinnie Iyer
Fox Sports: No. 19 (dropped five spots)
"The Ravens' pass coverage missed the presence of Terrell Suggs. Joe Flacco finally got things rolling in the passing game, but the Ravens will need to find him another weapon outside of Steve Smith going forward." -- Dan Schneier
NFL.com: No. 22 (dropped five spots)
"Through two weeks, we've learned this about the Baltimore Ravens ... a) Losing Terrell Suggs really hurts. b) Crockett Gillmore is the best weapon on offense. c) Sunday's home opener versus the 2-0 Bengals is an absolute must-win." -- Elliot Harrison
The Baltimore Sun: n/a (dropped out of top-10 list)
Phone Distracts Ray Lewis On National Television
Hey, Ray, we've all been there.
You'll be listening to somebody at work blabber on about who knows what, when suddenly your phone buzzes. We've all tried to sneak a peek, hoping nobody really notices.
It's just that the future Hall of Fame linebacker got caught on national television. And Lewis did far more than "sneak a peek."
The best part of the clip below is Lewis' face when it seems like a producer blasts him through his ear piece to put the phone down. Check it out.
Did Ravens Copy Patriots Formation Trick?
Remember when Head Coach John Harbaugh was flagged for going out on the field and yelling to the refs in the divisional round playoff game against the New England Patriots? His complaint was about not getting enough time to identify the Patriots' use of eligible and ineligible receivers.
It ultimately led to a rule change during the offseason, which now requires a player wearing an eligible number, who reports as ineligible, to line up in the tackle box.
The reason that incident is being brought up is because a New England reporter noticed that Trestman used similar trickery when he lined up Marshal Yanda outside of Steve Smith Sr. Sunday. It led to Gillmore being wide open over the middle of the field and scoring the first of his two touchdowns on the day.
Volin didn't note key changes, however.
"There are a couple of important differences that made the Ravens play legal," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Bo Smolka. "First, Yanda, wearing No. 73, was not an eligible receiver reporting as ineligible, as was the case with [Patriots running back Shane] Vereen. Second, Gillmore was lined up next to the left tackle, with no other player to his left on the line of scrimmage, so he is eligible. There should have never been any question about which receivers were eligible and which were not.
"As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Publicly, Harbaugh was incensed by the Patriots formation last year. But considering he pretty much copied it, it appears he admired it, as well."
They bring me sunshine, On a Cloudy day!!!! #smithgang #agent89 https://t.co/PTxnwGHPL8 pic.twitter.com/5c90TdwAw2 — Steve Smith Sr (@89SteveSmith) September 22, 2015