Today I'm looking for the winning edge. What will it take for the Ravens to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati? It will not be an easy assignment.
The Bengals' Marvin Lewis has a 9-5 record against his old team, and Cincinnati has won eight of its last 11 against the Ravens. Say what you will about Lewis' inability to win in the postseason, but he has had the Ravens' number.
Another problem is the physical nature of this game for the Ravens. They have a short week, having to play their second road game in seven days, and they came out of the Meadowlands with the typical bumps and bruises associated with playing a Rex Ryan team. And the Bengals bombed in their opener at New England. If they bomb again at home against a division rival, they can kiss a second straight division title goodbye, even two weeks in. Expect the Bengals to bring their 'A' game.
So, what can make the difference today? Here's a smorgasbord of the possible turn of events whereby the Ravens might win:1.) It's only September. If the Ravens are able to withstand the physical grind of back-to-back road games against smashmouth teams, this is the time. There is a reason John Harbaugh puts them through an arduous training camp, and this is part of the reason.
2.) They show more poise. The Bengals are an excitable group, starting with Chad Ochocinco. Give them a little adversity early and they could easily panic. The challenge for the Ravens is not to retaliate if cheapshots come their way. The Ravens of old have gotten caught up in the macho thing, and they always pay a price. They need to keep their cool in the cauldron that Paul Brown Stadium figures to be.
3.) Special teams shine. The Bengals are solid in two of the three phases of the game. They're not very good in special teams. Last week they gave up a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Ravens can't wait. Through preseason, Jerry Rosburg's group looked improved in every special team. Forget Tom Zbikowski's punt return mistake on the goal line in the Meadowlands. Won't happen again. But Jalen Parmele might have a big kick return, and Zbikowski as well, against the Bengals. Field position can easily swing this game.
4.) Billy Cundiff. The mistake the Ravens made a year ago -- trying to replace Matt Stover with unproven rookie Steve Hauschka -- came back to bite them big time. Hauschka cost them a couple wins, including a chance to beat the Bengals. Cundiff is no rookie, and he's got a thick skin after getting rejected by half the NFL. Cundiff's successful 46-yard kick against the Jets was taken off the board when Kyle Wilson ran into him last Monday. That was a big kick. I would feel a lot safer with Cundiff kicking the potential game-winner than a rookie trying to find his way.
5.) Put Carson Palmer on disconnect. The Bengals are going to spread the field and find out if the Ravens' secondary can cover man-to-man. They also will run out of the spread with Cedric Benson, who rushed for 100-plus yards twice against the Ravens last year. This is where the Ravens show if their defense has truly improved this season. The pass rush has to get to Palmer, and the defensive backs have to cover. Aside from Ochocinco, this may not be as tough as it seems. Terrell Owens had seven catches last week, but averaged 7.6 yards per catch. He's a shadow of the old TO. The Bengals were looking to improve their receiving corps in the offseason, and that was the best they could do. It may not be enough today.