Are the Ravens suddenly the underdogs in the AFC North title race?
The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both won in Week 13, though the narratives surrounding each team have seemingly shifted in the second half of the season.
For the Ravens, their once perceived areas of strengths are now weaknesses: a possibly injured star quarterback, a defense still prone to fourth-quarter collapses, a running game that has lost its edge in recent weeks, and ongoing red zone issues.
For the Bengals, they appear to be ramping up their confidence and production just in time, jumping through even the highest hoops in the remainder of their schedule.
In the last three weeks, Baltimore barely squeaked by two below-average teams in the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, not to mention that ugly loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
By contrast, Cincinnati stomped its way to statement wins against two AFC heavyweights, the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.
Given the Ravens’ relatively easy remaining schedule, Baltimore was once considered a smooth-sailing favorite to take the AFC North, but that narrative has quickly begun to crumble.
Ravens are trending downward, Bengals are trending upward after Week 13
For Ravens fans, this trajectory feels all too familiar after what happened in 2021. Reigning at the top of the AFC North with an 8-4 record, the Ravens saw Lamar Jackson get injured in Week 14. They put up a good fight in their remaining games but couldn’t find a way to win and ultimately missed the playoffs.
Baltimore’s path to the postseason feels less treacherous this year, but their AFC North rivals are gaining momentum at the most opportune time and barreling full steam ahead in the final stretch of the season.
Cincinnati still has to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, and Buffalo Bills, three extremely well-managed teams with excellent defenses to boot.
Baltimore’s toughest opponent (other than the Bengals) will arguably be the Deshaun Watson-led Browns, and even then, the Browns hardly look like playoff contenders this year following Watson’s 2022 debut.
Schedules aside, though, it’s difficult to argue that the Ravens currently have the upper hand in the AFC North. Whereas the Bengals are finally getting healthy on both sides of the ball (What a return from Ja’Marr Chase!), the Ravens took a pounding from the Broncos on Sunday and saw several key players succumb to injuries or suffer setbacks including Lamar Jackson, Patrick Queen, Kyle Hamilton, and Patrick Mekari.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s second straight absence remains concerning. Greg Roman has spent the last few weeks on the hot seat. Week 13’s victory was significant, to be sure, but few things are going right for the Ravens at the moment.
After Sunday, the team’s confidence admittedly pales in comparison to the bright eyes and puffed-out chests of the Cincinnati Bengals, who just beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs for the third straight time.
The Ravens may remain the favorites to top the division given their remaining schedule, but they shouldn’t get too comfortable up there.