Baltimore Ravens rivalry with Bengals key to future of the AFC North

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 10: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a touchdown during the NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 10: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a touchdown during the NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens could be the next big rivalry in the AFC North:

The Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals have a weird relationship in the AFC North. For much of the John Harbaugh era, the Bengals have dominated the Ravens. Prior to the Ravens three game winning streak the Bengals had beaten the Ravens eight of the last 10 times.

While Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton were able to be the annoying thorn stuck in the Ravens season, twice a year, Lewis and Dalton failed to win a single playoff game. The Ravens lead the all-time series 25-23 according to The Football Database, which is almost strange when you think about it. The Ravens have been around since 1996 and have won two Super Bowls. The Ravens have won the AFC North six times. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the year I was born.

Zac Taylor took over for Lewis last year. Now that he has his quarterback in Joe Burrow, the Bengals are officially in a new era. Since Lamar Jackson has become the starting quarterback, the Ravens haven’t lost to the Bengals. While the Bengals kept the score close in three of those games (including Jackson’s first start) Taylor had absolutely no answers for Jackson or the Greg Roman offense.

Baltimore needs to keep this dynamic going. They need to keep the upper hand in this rivalry. The Bengals have a lot of young talent, especially on the offense. They could be turning things back around. While they get things together, the Ravens have to dominate them. The Cleveland Browns are talented and now they have a new head coach. If Kevin Stefanski is the right coach for the Browns, they will be a very tough out. Mike Tomlin always has the Pittsburgh Steelers as a competitive team. That idea was reinforced after Pittsburgh nearly made the playoffs without Ben Roethlisberger.

The Ravens need to get two wins out of the Bengals. If the Ravens can have a win streak against the Bengals much like the one they had against the Browns in the Joe Flacco era, it would be huge. If Burrow lives up to the number one overall selection, Tee Higgins becomes a Pro Bowl receiver and the rest of the team grows up with them, Cincinnati could be the Ravens biggest threat for years to come. Harbaugh needs to make sure the Ravens are the hurdle that Taylor’s team just can’t get over.

For a while it looked like Lamar Jackson vs. Baker Mayfield was going to be the main rivalry of the division. After the 2019 season, Mayfield has a lot to prove. Mayfield has to course correct, while Jackson just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.

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For a moment Jackson vs. Roethlisberger may be the big ticket fight. More than likely the future of the division is going to be a battle between Jackson’s Ravens and Burrow’s Bengals. The Browns and Steelers won’t go away, but the Ravens and Bengals have the brightest futures brewing at the moment.

The Steelers don’t have a viable quarterback option behind Roethlisberger. They could easily be too good in the 2020 season to get a draft pick that will net them one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft. Cam Heyward and Joe Haden are ageing defensive starters. The Steelers may not be able to keep Bud Dupree for the long-term and he’s only had one year of star power production. The Steelers have some issues and the Browns still have to prove that they can keep things together for more than a couple years at a time.

Whether or not this hypotheses is proven correct, the Ravens will remain a contender for the Super Bowl. Lamar Jackson is an incredible franchise quarterback who has already won the NFL MVP award. There is a lot of young talent on the roster and Eric DeCosta has proven that he knows how to get the job done in the NFL Draft. The Ravens aren’t going anywhere. They just have to see which of their AFC North opponents becomes the biggest challenge.

The fact of the matter is that there is uncertainty in both Cleveland and Pittsburgh. You don’t know what the future holds for the Steelers. They are the kind of organization that can certainly figure it out. They could very well be a playoff team this season. After this year, they could be in a much tougher spot. The Browns have a roster that must be respected, but you never know if the Browns really will figure things out.

There is hope in Baltimore and Cincinnati. Baltimore has a Super Bowl kind of hope while Cincinnati has the fresh start variety. The Bengals had a very strong 2020 NFL Draft class. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bengals got four or five starters out of this draft class. The additions of Logan Wilson, Akheem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey have dramatically changed their linebacker position. The Ravens doubled down at linebackers. The Bengals took three players at the position to boost their defense.

Next. 11 Ravens outplaying their draft position. dark

The Bengals are the team that has the best chance to be the most annoying for the Ravens in the future. It may take them a bit to get up and running. It may take a year for things to come together but the Bengals are coming. The Steelers and Browns always have a chance to make the AFC North the toughest division in the NFL. One thing is for sure, the Ravens can’t let the Bengals sneak up on them. They have to be the obstacle the Bengals just can’t get over.