Slight Majority of Pundits Pick Ravens to Beat Bengals
There has been a lot of talk this week about tonight's game between the Ravens and Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium being a must-win game for the visitors.
A loss for the Bengals would indeed be a significant blow to their hopes of winning their third consecutive AFC North title or even making the playoffs.
However, this is also a crucial game for the Ravens, and a slight majority (16 of 29) of the pundits who got their picks in by this morning predicted them to prevail.
Cincinnati (5-4) sits in last place in the AFC North and is currently the No. 8 seed in the AFC, which means it wouldn't qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. Moreover, the Bengals are 0-2 in the division, including a 27-24 loss to the Ravens in Week 2, and 1-4 in the conference.
A defeat tonight would mean the Bengals have the same number of losses as six other AFC teams currently on the outside looking in, and all six would have a better conference winning percentage.
The Ravens (7-3), who are coming off a 33-31 loss at home in which the Cleveland Browns erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, need a victory tonight to maintain their hold on first place in the division. A Ravens win and Kansas City Chiefs loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night would vault Baltimore into the top spot in the AFC.
Losing to a division rival at home for the second time in five days not only would weaken the Ravens' chances of winning the AFC North, but it also would give them less margin for error to make the playoffs with a tough remaining schedule.
A plot twist for the game surfaced last night when the Bengals posted and subsequently deleted a video of quarterback Joe Burrow wearing some type of brace or sleeve on his throwing hand as the team departed the team bus in Baltimore. Burrow is not listed on the injury report.
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
Can Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald continue to neutralize Joe Burrow?
**Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi:** "It seems like only yesterday that Burrow was raining teardrops beyond the outstretched arms of Ravens DB's and into the waiting arms of Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, at will. In 2021, Burrow throttled the Ravens for 941 yards and seven touchdowns in two games. Two. Games. His passer rating against the Ravens that season was a blistering 131.1 while averaging a whopping 11.18 yards per attempt. That kind of performance is difficult to erase from the mind of Ravens Flock. And then along came Burrow's kryptonite, at least relatively speaking. His name? Mike Macdonald. Macdonald was hired as the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2022 and since he took the job, the Bengals, particularly Burrow, haven't been quite so prolific. In the four games that the Ravens and Bengals have played since Macdonald's arrival, Burrow's passer rating has fallen 33.9% to a more manageable 85.9. During those four games, Burrow has averaged 216 yards passing per game to go with a total of five scoring strikes and two interceptions. Macdonald has choked down Burrow's production with a varied look of coverages, stunts across the defensive front and a determined effort to mitigate big plays. Burrow's most explosive play vs. the Ravens since Macdonald taking over as DC is 33 yards."
The Ravens defense gives them the edge in what figures to be a close game.
**The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon:** "A stunning six NFL games ended on field goals as time expired last weekend, and it feels like we could see another Thursday night. History certainly favors the Ravens, with Lamar Jackson boasting a career 7-2 record against the Bengals, including 4-1 at home. With Tee Higgins out and Ja'Marr Chase playing through a back injury, Joe Burrow is going to have a tough time against the NFL's best defense."
The Bengals will be unable to overcome injuries to key players on both sides of the ball.
The Athletic's Vic Tafur: "There is no question the Bengals were looking past the Texans last week. They scored 20 points in the second half, but it was too little, too late. And they are really going to miss WR Tee Higgins and DE Sam Hubbard this week — especially Hubbard as the Ravens will be able to run the ball and I am not sure the Bengals' Joe Mixon will be able to do the same. The pick: Ravens."
Jackson could have a big game running the ball against a vulnerable Bengals run defense.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "Lamar Jackson has won seven of his eight career starts against the Bengals. He's put up modest numbers through the air, completing 61.8 percent of his passes, throwing 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions and logging a 93.9 quarterback rating. It's his legs, though, that have really hurt the Bengals. He's averaged 79.5 rushing yards in his eight starts against Cincinnati, and that's despite one game in which he rushed just twice for 3 yards. Jackson has had more than 50 rushing yards in every other start against the Bengals. The Ravens quarterback has had fewer than 10 rushing attempts in five of his past seven games and has had more than 50 rushing yards just twice since Week 3. Lou Anarumo's defense has struggled to stop the run this year and has traditionally struggled to stop Jackson."
The Ravens can spring big plays downfield against the Bengals.
**NFL.com’s Eric Edholm:** "The Bengals have been a turnover-dependent defense under Anarumo, but this season they're allowing explosive plays at a rate we've not seen in recent years. Cincinnati is 30th in the NFL in yards per pass attempt at 7.38, and the Ravens averaged 7.19 against them in Week 2. Zay Flowers hauled in the Ravens' only pass longer than 20 yards in that game, but it went for 52. He's a game changer and big-play threat for the Ravens, but they have many. Twelve different Ravens have a reception of 20-plus yards this season. Odell Beckham Jr. had a 40-yard TD on Sunday. Mark Andrews hauled in a 36-yarder and was a big factor in beating the Bengals in Week 2. But Baltimore also hasn't received much fireworks from receivers Nelson Agholor or Rashod Bateman lately. The Bengals have playmakers in the secondary, including Cam Taylor-Britt, who had a big fourth-quarter INT last week and has four on the season. But the Bengals' secondary was picked apart by Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud this past Sunday, and they also allowed several big pass plays against the Niners. If Hubbard's replacements can't juice up the pass rush, the Bengals' secondary could be in for a long night."
The Bengals can't afford to lose, and they won't.
**CBS Sports’ John Breech:** "If the Bengals lose on Thursday, that's going to essentially kill any shot they have of winning the AFC North, which is why I think we'll see them in desperation mode. I am mildly concerned at the fact that the Bengals have lost 13 STRAIGHT road prime-time games, but no one has been better than Burrow at ending these ugly franchise losing streaks and I'll say he ends another one on Thursday. … I'll go ahead and say the Ravens blow a fourth quarter lead and the Bengals win on a field goal."
**USA Today’s Jordan Mendoza:** "Both teams are coming off games they should've won and need to rebound to avoid a two-game skid. Baltimore has proven it can't be trusted to close out games, and Cincinnati will face Baltimore with a healthy Joe Burrow this time around. The Bengals return the favor with a road victory to cut Baltimore's lead in the division."
The Athletic's Mark Kaboly: "I look at it like this: This game means a lot more to the Bengals than the Ravens. It just feels ripe for a Burrow signature game for Cincinnati. Burrow hasn't been good, and we all know why. The Bengals are on the road and coming off a tough loss. But they need this one if they have any chance of getting to the playoffs. And oh, yeah, the Ravens' collapse is concerning to me. Give me the Bengals, 30-21."
**The Ringer’s Sheil Kapadia:** "Joe Burrow threw a pair of interceptions last week against Houston, but he also made a number of high-level throws. If Tyler Boyd doesn't drop a late third-down pass in the end zone, we might have spent this week talking about Burrow as the MVP favorite. I think the Ravens are the better team, but when Burrow's healthy and in an underdog role, I pretty much always roll with Cincinnati."
The Ravens have had good luck wearing all black.
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer: "The Ravens will be wearing their all-black uniforms for the first time this season. That might be bad news for a Bengals team that has lost 14 straight regular-season and playoff road games in prime time. According to the X (formerly Twitter) account @RavensUniforms, which tracks the team's performance in different uniform combinations, the Ravens are 18-6 (.750) in their all-black look. That's the team's third-best winning percentage among its 11 combinations."
|ESPN||2 of 4 panelists pick Ravens|
|Baltimore Sun||4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens||“Familiarity has bred contempt between these AFC North rivals, both of whom need a win to put the stink of last weekend behind them. Expect a desperate game with chunk plays and wild swings. The Ravens have checked Joe Burrow effectively and are equipped to pound on Cincinnati’s lesser defense. They’ll get back on track but not without tense moments.” — Childs Walker|
|The Athletic||Bengals 26, Ravens 23||“To their credit, the Ravens didn’t appear to dwell on the awful loss to Cleveland. They were loose during the practice week and seemed locked in on the Bengals and the opportunity at hand. If the Ravens are as good as people around the league seem to think, they’ll take care of business in front of what should be a raucous crowd. It’s just hard to ignore that the Bengals absolutely have to win this game, and it’s easier to trust them if the game is tight in the fourth quarter. It probably will be, too.” — Jeff Zrebiec|
|NFL Network||5 of 10 panelists pick Ravens|
|Sporting News||Bengals 24, Ravens 23||“The Bengals made some critical mistakes against the Texans and also had sudden trouble vs. the run. Their defense should rebound here as the Ravens' offense tends to be inconsistent with the idea. Joe Burrow is still playing at a high level since healing, while Lamar Jackson isn't taking over games of late. Cincinnati has played Baltimore well during the Burrow era, and it continues here in a thriller as the visitors split the season series.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||1 of 2 panelists pick Ravens||“This game lost a little luster when both lost last week. The Bengals looked bad on defense, while the Ravens blew a fourth-quarter lead in losing to the Browns. I think Lamar Jackson will get back on track against a Bengals defense that was shredded last week. The Ravens take it.” — Pete Prisco|
|Sports Illustrated||4 of 7 panelists pick Ravens|
Six Young Ravens Assistants Mentioned As Potential Future NFL Head Coaches
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero looked at rising young NFL coaches who could be candidates to become head coaches. Six Ravens coaches received mention.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton, 38, and Macdonald, 36, were on the list of candidates for the next hiring cycle.
"A former NFL safety, Horton joined the Ravens as a coaching intern in 2014, was promoted to assistant special teams coach the following year and succeeded Jerry Rosburg for the top job in 2019," Pelissero wrote. "Horton has a presence and the trust of John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator himself. The Ravens finished No. 1 in Rick Gosselin's special teams rankings in 2021 and No. 3 last year — and not just because of all-world kicker Justin Tucker. Harbaugh has given Horton ownership over the operation and Horton has run with it, coaching up players from both sides of the ball into what is perennially one of the NFL's top units.
"Another onetime Ravens coaching intern, Macdonald spent the 2021 season with John Harbaugh's brother, Jim, as defensive coordinator at Michigan before returning to Baltimore last season and remaking one of the NFL's top units. As linebacker Roquan Smith recently told The Insiders of Macdonald: 'He's a fiery guy. He live by the sword, die by it. But I think he's very cerebral, smart in the way he [creates] his attack plan and being able to just change it up week in and week out, so I'm a big fan of it.' Only one defense has shut down [Offensive Coordinator] Ben Johnson's Lions this year: Macdonald's unit in Week 7, when Baltimore routed Detroit, 38-6. As hot candidates go, Macdonald could be a sleeper."
Ravens coaches who made the list of candidates to watch in future years were: Wide Receivers Coach Greg Lewis, 43; Inside Linebackers Coach Zachary Orr, 31; Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver, 43; Defensive Backs Coach Dennard Wilson, 41.
Gus Edwards Named a Sleeper Pro Bowl Candidate
Ravens fans know how good Gus Edwards is, but he hasn't gotten much recognition outside of Baltimore.
However, NFL.com analyst David Carr named the powerful running back as a sleeper Pro Bowl candidate.
"I feel like no one is talking about Gus Edwards in the Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack," Carr wrote. "It's not a big surprise with Lamar Jackson still an electric ball-carrier and Keaton Mitchell stealing the hearts of fantasy football managers over the last couple weeks. However, Edwards has been Mr. Reliable in the backfield ever since J.K. Dobbins was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 1, leading the team with 121 attempts and 502 rush yards. He's only averaging 12 carries per game but has made the most out of them, especially in the red zone. Of Edwards' eight rushing touchdowns — third-most in the NFL behind Raheem Mostert and Christian McCaffrey — seven have come in his last four games."
Edwards has averaged 5.0 yards per carry over 62 career games since signing with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2018.