Can the Ravens finally get back in the win column?
Can they? Yes. Will they? We'll see on Sunday. But Baltimore needs this win. Players have emphasized that throughout the week. Is it a must win game? No, because the Ravens still aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs even if they lose. But the team knows that another loss - one that would drop them to 3-6 - would make it even more highly unlikely that Baltimore could make the playoffs. The Ravens do still believe that they have the talent to turn their season around and make a late season run, but this game will be telling. This is the most important game that Baltimore has played this season and as close to a playoff game as it can be midway through November. With a win, though, the Ravens would trail the Bengals by just 1 ½ games for first place in the AFC North with four of their final seven games at home and tight end Dennis Pitta potentially ready to come back at some point during the next few weeks. A loss, though, would drop Baltimore to 3 ½ games back of Cincinnati and potentially 2 ½ games back of the final wild card spot.
How much will Geno Atkins being out help the Ravens' offense?
The Bengals still have talent on defense even without Atkins, but losing Atkins is tough. He is arguably the best defensive tackle in the league, the best player on Cincinnati's defense, and he is a big reason the Bengals' defense is ranked as highly as it is. But he's out now, and so is Cincinnati's top cornerback, Leon Hall. The Bengals are ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense and sixth in scoring defense, but the defense struggled some during Cincinnati's loss to the Dolphins last week, even before Atkins got hurt. Ryan Tannehill was an efficient 20 of 28 for 208 yards and helped lead a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and running back Lamar Miller had 105 yards on 16 carries. Not having Atkins will also surely impact the Bengals' pass rush. As good as he is against the run, he's maybe the best defensive tackle in the league at getting pressure on the quarterback. But the Ravens have had much more favorable matchups than this one and are still yet to put together a consistent game on offense.
Can the Ravens' defense slow down the Bengals' offense?
Cincinnati's offense is more dangerous and more dynamic than it was last season. Andy Dalton had been an OK player the last couple years, and the Bengals have had A.J. Green at wide receiver, but the addition of running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert through the draft combined with the emergence of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu at wide receiver to go along with Green has made the Bengals more dangerous. Dalton has also improved and, according to members of the Ravens defense, is playing better than he has at any point during his career. Dalton had a bad game against the Dolphins last week, but Cincinnati put up 49 points against a highly ranked Jets defense the week before and are ranked ninth in the NFL in total offense and seventh in passing offense. The Ravens are ranked 10th in total defense, but they have had problems at times stopping the run as well as problems stopping the pass, including last week against journeyman Browns quarterback Jason Campbell.