The Baltimore Ravens hope to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history and snap a three-game losing streak to the Cincinnati Bengals as the AFC North foes clash Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Last season, the Bengals swept the season series but never won a game by more than a touchdown. The last time the two teams met in Baltimore was the 2014 season opener, with A.J. Green catching a 77-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton with less than five minutes remaining to lift the Bengals to a 23-16 win. The loss proved to be crucial for Baltimore, as their 10-6 record was just behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) and the Bengals (10-5-1) in the division.
The division remains competitive once again, and the Ravens are already in a hole. But Baltimore can take an early advantage over Cincinnati and build some confidence before Week 4’s trip to Pittsburgh.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco owns a 7-7 career mark against the Bengals, but in the last three matchups he’s chucked up two touchdowns to six interceptions and hasn’t achieved a passer rating higher than 71.0 in the last five meetings. And Flacco’s launched 18 interceptions against the Bengals, far more than against any other squad.
Flacco has never had to bury the Ravens out of an 0-2 hole in seven years, but Baltimore is running one of the more difficult gamuts to start the season. The Ravens opened with a harrowing trip to Denver, a tightly wound matchup dominated by defense with neither side managing a touchdown on offense. Flacco threw two interceptions, and struggled to get the offensive into the red zone.
In Week 2, the Ravens dug out of two 10-point holes against on-the-rise Oakland, only to watch the Raiders storm back with a touchdown with less than 30 seconds remaining to capture the win, 37-33. Flacco went 32-for-45 for 384 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- an overall excellent performance that could’ve used more on the ground.
Thus far, running back Justin Forsett leads a Ravens rushing game ranked No. 21 in the league with 91 yards per game. The 29-year-old, who has just 111 rushing yards this season, is off to a slow start after rushing for 1,266 yards last season. The offense could gain a lift with the potential return of rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Head coach John Harbaugh said he's "encouraged" by Perriman's progress in practice this week after missing eight weeks with a knee injury.
The loss to the Raiders also marked the first game without star linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was lost for the season with a torn Achilles suffered in Week 1. As a result, Baltimore didn’t generate a single sack and allowed Oakland to convert nine of their 14 attempts on third down.
Now they’ll meet a Bengals squad eyeing a second-straight 3-0 start and humming at a clip of 28.5 points and 392.5 yards per game behind Dalton’s five touchdown passes with no interceptions. It’s the hottest start of Dalton’s career and he’s looked far stronger than the passer who heaved 17 interceptions a year ago. The offensive line has also kept him clean, refusing to let up a sack through two games.
Meanwhile, tight end Tyler Eifert has provided strong support for the passing game. Eifert has pulled down 13 receptions for a team-leading 153 yards and three touchdowns of 17 targets. There has been high praise for Eifert's early efforts, after sitting out almost the entire 2014 season with an elbow injury.
Balancing out the Bengals' aerial attack is the NFL’s third-best rushing duo of running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati’s gained 151 yards per game on the ground, and Hill and Bernard have learned to pick up the other’s slack. Hill fumbled twice in last week’s 24-19 win over San Diego, and Bernard responded with 123 yards on 20 attempts to complement Dalton’s three touchdown passes.
Betting Odds: Baltimore -2.5
Over/Under: 44.5 points
Kickoff Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Online: NFL Game Pass