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The Bengals present Baltimore’s first real test of 2018

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals have quietly been two of the more well matched teams over the last several years. They split the divisional series last year when the Ravens handled the Bengals on the road in Week 1, only to have their hearts ripped out in the final week of the regular season in what should’ve been a playoff clinching victory.

Instead, the Bengals won at the gun on an improbable 4th and 12 touchdown strike from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd that put the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs and sent Baltimore packing. On Sunday, the Ravens carved out a small slice of revenge for that debacle by throttling Buffalo into oblivion with a 47-3 win, but face a true test in their quest to fully make things right when they head to Cincy for Thursday Night Football.

As good as Baltimore looked in their Week 1 opener, the qualifier is that they were at home against the Bills, who figure to be in the mix for the number one pick in the draft come April. That seems especially true given their limited ceiling with incumbent starter Nathan Peterman, who tossed two interceptions and was sacked five times en route to being relieved by rookie Josh Allen in the third quarter.

As much as he is criticized on a national scale, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is better than Peterman by a wide margin, and Cincinnati is a different animal than Buffalo this season. This looks to be especially true after a big time road win in their Week 1 outing versus Indianapolis.

While their defense had a bit of a tough time containing Andrew Luck in his long awaited return effort, the offense was up to the task in keeping up with Indy’s output. Dalton was efficient, throwing for 243 yards and a pair of scores to receivers A.J. Green and John Ross, and was also able to spread it around a bit to other skill players like Joe Mixon.

The second year running back appears poised for a breakout campaign, running for almost 100 yards and a touchdown and racking up 54 receiving yards. In short, after taking care of business against a team they should have in Week 1, the Ravens face a true litmus test in a quick turnaround game on Thursday.

The defense will have a much more difficult time against Green, Mixon, and a potentially revitalized Ross than they did with Kelvin Benjamin, LeSean McCoy, and not much else. While Cincy’s defense allowed the Colts to move the ball, they came up with big plays when necessary, and it’ll be interesting to see if Baltimore’s offense can both move the chains and avoid turnovers.

While they did a nice job against the Bills, a more consistent running game would’ve been good to see, and the passing attack will probably be facing longer fields than the several short ones they were given thanks to the defense and special teams. If they can consistently move the ball, Ravens fans will have every right to be confident in the team’s ability to score points at a high enough clip to win double digit games this year.

The win over Buffalo was a great first step, but if Baltimore is truly for real, they’ll have to prove it with a consistent performance against the Bengals this week. If they put one forth, and hopefully steal a win, they’ll certainly enter the national conversation as a true contender in 2018.