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After dominating Cincinnati, Ravens are a contender in the AFC

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It was just the first of sixteen regular season games. Still, the Baltimore Ravens 20-0 beatdown of the Bengals in Week 1 was a genuine statement win.

Baltimore's defense exceeded even the loftiest of expectations, holding Cincinnati scoreless with five takeaways and five sacks. The defense was so dominant that Marvin Lewis decided to punt the ball from past midfield while down three scores early in the fourth quarter, and Andy Dalton threw the ball away on fourth down in the red zone. An unstoppable pass rush coupled with superb pass coverage simply took away the Bengals will to compete.

Joe Flacco and the offense played smart, efficient football. Marty Mornhinweg’s play calling fueled an eight minute advantage in time-of-possession. And the Ravens special teams were reliable as always.

All in all, Baltimore was one of the most impressive AFC teams in Week 1. The mighty Patriots defense allowed 537 net yards at home to the Chiefs. Pittsburgh hung on for a three point victory in Cleveland, yet their vaunted offense was relatively uninspiring. Both AFC South favorites, the Texans and Titans, also dropped important home tests.

So now the Ravens sit atop the AFC North standings due to an advantage over the Steelers in point differential. Week 1 was a major step in the right direction considering the team’s recent struggles against the Bengals and the importance of road divisional victories. Next on the slate, the young Cleveland Browns will travel to M&T Bank stadium for the home opener in Baltimore, providing a great opportunity for the Ravens to stack another early season win.

2017 will surely be a grueling season with ups and downs along the way. Nevertheless, the exquisite performance delivered by the Ravens defense on the road put the NFL on notice. The Baltimore Ravens are legitimate contenders this season.