NFL fans can look forward to another superb Sunday night football matchup this weekend, as division rivals will square off in Baltimore. With some extra time off following their Thursday night game in Week 4, the Cincinnati Bengals will travel east to face the Ravens. The Bengals took care of business at home last week against the Miami Dolphins, beating them 27-15. Baltimore was defeated at home in a close game at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, 23-20.
This game could go a long way in deciding the AFC North, and we’ll examine a few important narratives.
Rashod Bateman Injury Status
For the last several seasons, the Ravens have not relied on a prolific passing game to move the ball down the field. They’re a run heavy team, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and his remarkable athletic ability. Now that J.K. Dobbins has returned to the lineup after recovering from a torn ACL, it is possible that Baltimore might feature the run even more.
While they’ll look to be physical and establish a ground game at the point of attack, the Ravens will still need to throw during long third downs and to keep the defense honest. Second year wide receiver Rashod Bateman has played well this season which has allowed the Ravens to maintain that balance. However, he’s nursing a foot injury that might have a notable impact on the team.
By all accounts, Bateman’s foot ailment doesn’t appear serious, but if he’s forced to miss time, or if his explosion off of the line of scrimmage is limited, Baltimore could be left in a bind.
Bengals Protection and Baltimore Secondary Play
The most important key to the game might be the ability of Cincinnati’s offensive line to protect Joe Burrow. He has already been sacked 16 times in four games, which is tied for second amongst all NFL quarterbacks.
Keeping the quarterback upright is important in every game, but it might take on added significance considering the makeup of the Ravens defense. During the first month of the season, Baltimore’s secondary has been torched by opposing offenses. If Burrow has time to throw to elite wide receivers Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, it’s highly likely that the Bengals could light up the scoreboard.
These two teams last played in December 2021, when Burrow threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns.
Kickers Making A Difference
It isn’t often that game previews take a deep dive into the special teams units of each squad, but in a matchup featuring two evenly matched teams, it might end up deciding who wins.
Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker has been the best at his position for a long time, and is not afraid of the big moment. He’s been a pillar of stability at a position that turns over multiple times a year in other NFL cities.
Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson’s career is off to a tremendous start, punctuated by some memorable field goals converted in the playoffs last season. His effectiveness will be worth watching on Sunday night, but also pay attention to his kickoffs as well. Baltimore return man Devin Duvernay has been electric this season, and the Bengals might try to keep the ball away from him.