I have joked about this before during the season, but if someone had told me in August that the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns would be at the top of the AFC North and the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers would be clawing to get about the line of mediocrity, I would have laughed loudly.
I think I actually did at some point.
The Bengals may be atop the division with the best record at 6-3, but the team showed signs of problems with its offensive line in the 22-20 loss to Miami last Thursday night. Andy Dalton had just been named the AFC Player of the Month and as I had discussed with David Holcomb on his radio shot for Football Nation, he looked a little out of sync.
The Dolphins did a good job of spreading their defensive line out, sometimes using five players to rush the passer.
Dalton threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball as well.
Can the Ravens, who have been known for their defense over the years, follow suit and do the same thing to rattle the best quarterback in the division?
According to Bengals.com, the true test for the team is for the defense to make sure the Ravens Ray Rice does not get back on track in this contest.
“The Bengals are wary of the numbers coming out of Baltimore. How Rice is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. How his longest run is 14 yards. How the Ravens ran out of the pistol formation in last Sunday's loss in Cleveland five times for five yards. How teams like the Browns are daring Baltimore to run on them while they worry that quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens can't take them up on it with the NFL's fourth-worst rushing offense.”
Here are three bold predictions for Sunday’s matchup.
Vontaze Burfict will shut Ray Rice down
It won’t be the issues with the offensive line as much as the run defense that will step up and stop the bowling-ball runner.
Rice Rice could be the best running back in the division, but he has not been able to show his talents or his speed this year so far. Credit that to poor line play and poor execution.
Vontaze Burfict gets better with each game. This time, he is challenged with stopping the little engine that could. Look for Burfict to make life hell all day for Rice and the running game.
This team almost has too many weapons. I never thought I would write that in a story. Where does Andy Dalton go when he needs points? Everywhere. But the newest “great” in this offense appears to be Jones, who caught four touchdown passes two weeks ago and has unlimited skills to help the passing game. A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu – along with Jones and the tight ends if they can get out of each other’s way, make it pretty exciting these days in Ohio.
I like Jones for eight catches for 120 and two scores.
Another Flacco-type game
Just when you think he is going to flash his brilliance like he did in the playoffs, Joe Flacco lets you down – again!
Look for Flacco to plod along, not do anything huge, and then try something out of the ordinary and out of the playbook that goes astray. Whether it is a sideline pass that he misses on that leads to an interception or the fact he waits too long in the pocket to release the ball, Flacco is still an inconsistent passer in this league – Super Bowl ring or no Super Bowl ring.