After a much needed 10 day break, the Bengals will travel to Baltimore on Sunday to take on a Ravens team that lost last weekend to the Browns. The Bengals lost their best defensive lineman, Geno Atkins, for the year on October 31st in their 22-20 loss to the Dolphins. This game has huge implications for both teams as we head into the second half of the season. It will either give the Bengals extra breathing room in the division or tighten the race for the division crown.
The Bengals were beat up injury wise after their game against the Jets, and the turn around on a short week to play the Dolphins did not help. They lost Atkins for the year due to a torn ACL against Miami, and running back Gio Bernard suffered a rib injury, and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is also listed as questionable with a groin injury, and if the Bengals happen to be without these two key offensive weapons, they’re going to have a hard time getting their offense going.
The Ravens are fairly healthy, but they may be without cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith. That would help the Bengals out offensively if neither of the Smiths can play, but the injuries don’t seem serious according to head coach John Harbaugh.
Joe Flacco has always been pretty successful against the Bengals, and without their best cornerback in Leon Hall, the Bengals’ secondary will really need to step up. They did a decent job against the Dolphins, only allowing Ryan Tannehill to throw for 208 yards and no touchdowns. But the Ravens also have a familiar weapon in Ray Rice who is known for the best versatile back in the league, but some would say he has had an off year. With Atkins out, and linebacker Rey Maualuga out for another couple weeks with a knee sprain, Rice could see this depleted Bengals defense as a chance to get his game going.
Andy Dalton should have his receiving corps back to 100% on Sunday. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones were both banged up in the game against Miami. Andrew Hawkins returned last week from the IR and he’ll prove to be another useful weapon for Dalton because of his small size and quickness. AJ Green as always will be a headache for the defense to cover, and he has quietly been having a great past couple of weeks, with four straight 100 yard games, that have been kind of on the down low because of a four touchdown performance by Marvin Jones against the Jets.
If the Bengals happen to lose this week, that puts them at 6-4 and the Ravens would improve to 4-5 and only a game and a half back for the lead in the AFC North. With the Browns on a bye this week, they would be tied with the Ravens for second should the Ravens win. The Bengals had a four game winning streak going before they had their heart breaking loss against the Dolphins. If they want to get back on a hot streak and really put the division away, now is the time to do so. Next week they host division and cross state rival Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. If they can take a three and a half game lead in the division into that game, they’ll really have a chance to put the division away and make noise in the AFC playoff picture. This is a must win game for Cincinnati if they want to continue to take steps in the right direction.