Whether people want to realize it or not, the Cincinnati Bengals are the benchmark for success in the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens were the benchmark at one point and so were the Pittsburgh Steelers. But those days are gone for the time being and the Bengals are the only team in the AFC North that has made the playoffs in each of the last five years. At the very least, the Bengals have been consistent winners as of late.
Yes, the Baltimore Ravens have more playoff wins than any of their division rivals combined since 1996 with 15. Yes, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012 and the Bengals haven't won a playoff game in 25 years. Yes, Joe Flacco has more playoff wins under his belt with 10, than the Bengals do in their entire franchise history with only five. But none of that matters because that's in the past.
Am I saying that the Bengals are a better organization than the Ravens overall? No I'm not. But if the Ravens don't get their act together soon, that will change faster than they think. The Bengals are built to be competitive for a long time. They have young talent on offense at wide receiver, quarterback, running back and tight end. The Bengals have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and their defense gives up the fewest points on average this season.
For the past few days, we have talked about the Ravens owning the Steelers as of late, winning eight out of the last 11 meetings. The rivalry between the Ravens and the Steelers is still the best in the NFL. But at the same time, there's a third team in the AFC North in the Bengals and the Ravens need to be paying attention to them a lot better.
Baltimore has made the playoffs once in the last three seasons. The Ravens overall record since the start of the 2013 season is 24-25 including the playoffs. That's unacceptable. The Ravens have also lost five out of their last six games against the Bengals. That's not a statistic the Ravens can ignore.
For years, the Ravens have built their franchise to beat the Steelers and their work has been rewarded for it recently in head to head matchups. Beating the Steelers should always be a priority because they play in the same division. But beating the Bengals has turned into a priority that is every bit as important as beating the Steelers. It's 1A and 1B.
The Bengals have just won their fourth division title since the AFC North was created in 2002. The Ravens have four division titles in that time frame as well. The Bengals have been a problem for the Ravens since Marvin Lewis was hired as the head coach in Cincinnati in 2003. The Bengals are 15-10 against the Ravens under Lewis.
Cincinnati over the last 12 years has spoiled the Ravens plans for a playoff spot more than once. The Bengals came back from a 17 point deficit in 2004 in Baltimore to beat the Ravens 27-26 in a game that cost Baltimore a playoff spot as they finished the season with a 9-7 record. Had the Ravens won that game, they would have clinched a wild card spot with a 10-6 record.
In 2013, the Bengals cost the Ravens another playoff spot by beating them in Cincinnati 34-17 in their final regular season game with the Ravens finishing the season 8-8. Again, had the Ravens won that game, they would have clinched a playoff spot with a 9-7 record.
The Ravens haven't given the Bengals a beating in quite some time and it is well overdue. It's time that the Ravens begin spending a good chunk of their energy of hate that they have for the Steelers and sprinkle it in the direction of Cincinnati, because if the Ravens don't build their roster to beat the Bengals soon, this 1-5 record that the Ravens have against the Bengals recently will only get worse.