Who would've thought when the schedule came out in April that Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals would be for first place in the AFC North? I certainly looked at the game and marked down an easy "w." However, the sudden resurgence of the Bengals has made this a must-see game.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis as his team are riding a three game winning streak heading into Baltimore. Quarterback Carson Palmer is seemingly healthy again, and is making touchdown connections to wideout Chad Ochocinco that remind one of 2005. The Bengals even have a good running game (122 ypg) these days with Cedric Benson. However, it's the Bengals defense that is turning heads around the league.
On Wednesday night, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife died suddenly. Zimmer's wife was portrated on HBO's series "Hard Knocks" as a team favorite who made cookies for the defensive players. People will say the Bengals defensive players will now play even harder---don't buy into it. They will play hard no matter what. And it won't even matter.
The Ravens are simply too powerful on offense in 2009. They have too many options both running the football and throwing it. The offensive line will most likely be without left tackle Jared Gaither, but OT Michael Oher is more than capable at filling in for Gaither. In fact, some believe Oher is a better left tackle than Gaither already because of his extreme foot quickness. Oher will quickly be put to the test by Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom (Leading league in sacks with eight) and will need to protect quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside. Lineman Marshal Yanda will now step in at right tackle. There's no need to worry; Yanda is more than capable and has a nasty streak to him that is needed in an o-lineman. Injuries happen, and that's why you need offensive line depth. Listening to me, Dan Snyder? That statement was directed at you.
The Bengals aren't nearly as bad as they were last year, but they have won three straight games in the last seconds of games. They have played sloppy football, and can't seem to put games together. That trend will need to change if they want to have any hope of winning in a very hostile environment. Ravens cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth must be on their A games to handle Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry. I believe they will do just fine. The Ravens will continue to put numbers on the board, and I can see them pulling away in the fourth quarter to take first place.
Ravens 31 Bengals 17