Can the Bengals Best the Steelers or Ravens?

Over at ESPN, James Walker buys into the emerging conventional wisdom about the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals. He believes they’ve improved — but questions whether they can overcome division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

It is well-documented that Cincinnati added a lot of talented players via the draft and free agency. But I still question if this team is good enough and tough enough to beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times a year, which ultimately will determine how far the 2009 Bengals go.

I’m not really sure why Walker thinks it necessary that the Bengals win all four games against the Steelers and Ravens. They went 3-1 against them in the regular season in 2005 (dropping one to Pittsburgh) and made the playoffs, after all. Just splitting with each club would level the playing field.

But how likely is even that modest goal? Based on last season, in which the Bengals won fewer than five games while both the Steelers and Ravens went to the playoffs, it might seem far-fetched. But I’m not sure. Last season was an injury train wreck for Cincinnati that doesn’t really provide a fair measuring stick. The year before, 2007, the Bengals beat the Ravens twice while dropping both games against the Steelers. In 2006, Cincinnati split with both teams.

Overall, the Carson Palmer-led Bengals have actually dominated Baltimore, winning six of nine games from 2004 through the opener in 2008. Palmer & Co. have had less luck with Pittsburgh, which has taken six of their eight meetings with Palmer.

All reports have Palmer coming back at 100%. If so, and if the team can stay relatively injury-free, I expect their games against the Steelers and Ravens to more closely resemble the pattern of 2004-2007 than ’08. That doesn’t bode well for their games against Pittsburgh, but I think folks like Walker will be surprised at how quickly they bounce back against Baltimore.

Topics: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers

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  • Marlon

    I think the Bengals will be better, but if you think they are gonna beat the Ravens like they did from 200-2007 you are sadly mistaken. First it was a little easier for them with Kyle Boller fumbling all over the place and Brian Billick choosing to be predictable and ultra conservative on offense. Second Joe Flacco from a talent standpoint is very similar to Carson Palmer and despite having a better surrounding, he still has done something Carson Palmer hasn’t and that’s win playoff games. Third, the Ravens overall are a much more creative football team than they were under Billick, which will allow them to maintain their new found success against the Bengals. So nice article, but the Bengals will be better except against the Ravens and Steelers.

  • ravenczar

    How the Bengals will be better with Ochostinko pouting and TJ Houshmandzadah in Seattle is beyond me, but whatever. If more than 3/4 of the team stays out of prison, I predict the Bengals will go a robust 5-11, dominating the Cleveland Browns and dropping four to the division’s NFL teams.

  • david

    I think the Bengals will be better, but if you think they are gonna beat the Ravens like they did from 200-2007 you are sadly mistaken

    The Ravens are a more balanced team these days and so will certainly be a tougher nut to crack. But to my eye the two teams look pretty evenly matched. At a guess I think they’ll split this season.

    I predict the Bengals will go a robust 5-11, dominating the Cleveland Browns and dropping four to the division’s NFL teams.

    Funny thing about the Bengals in the Palmer era has been a tendency to do well against good teams but flop against bad ones. I remember working up some numbers years ago comparing how Baltimore, Pitt and Cincy fared against winning teams versus .500 and below teams. Surprisingly, all three clubs had roughly the same winning percentage against “good” teams, around 50%ish. The difference was that Pitt and Balti beat bad teams 80%+ of the time, while the Bengals were only about 50% ish versus bad teams. So honestly, teams like Cleveland scare me more than teams like Baltimore. I’ll have to go back and update the numbers one of these days…

  • FanStuckInIndy

    It was helpful to see the stats prepared for the four seasons between 2004 and 2007. It was my instinct as well that we had done a lot better over recent years competing in this division than we were maybe getting credit for – not that it was that impressive. What it does show, is that teams like the Steelers, Ravens and Browns do take the Bengals serious when they are up against them – and they should! Baltimore will not have at its disposal any so-called new found success that will enable them to embarrass the Bengals again this year (as in 2008) – even with the Flacman. Pittsburg also knows they have their hands full with a healthy Cincinnati Bengals team. The fact that we are contenders in the AFC North should speak to the rest of the league – and it does. The record is not always what it shows, and 2009 is a whole new season.