Ravens run offense vs. Bengals run defense: How due is Jamal Lewis? The All-Pro running back has averaged 59.5 yards a game, nearly 70 yards off his per-game pace from last season. But Lewis has been a lock for 100 yards against the Bengals, eclipsing that mark the six times he has faced them. His per-game average against them is 127 yards. Cincinnati is extremely suspect against the run, especially against physical offensive lines. The Bengals gave up 196 rushing yards to 31-year-old Jets running back Curtis Martin. They held Miami to 25 yards on 20 carries last week, but the Dolphins were working with No. 3 back Lamar Gordon. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis might turn to some different looks (go to a 3-4 alignment or use four linemen and four linebackers) to try to slow Lewis.
Ravens pass offense vs. Bengals pass defense: Cincinnati's two starting safeties could be sidelined with injuries, which could make the Bengals vulnerable to the deep pass. But the Ravens might not have the receivers to capitalize on that. Their two best deep threats - tight end Todd Heap and receiver Travis Taylor - are out with injuries. Randy Hymes, who is filling in for Taylor, might be the only option left downfield. Bengals cornerbacks Tory James and Deltha O'Neal are experienced and adequate. Cincinnati has allowed quarterbacks to complete 62 percent of their throws yet has held them to 6.7 yards per attempt (11th best in the NFL). Don't be surprised if the Ravens try some swing passes to Jamal Lewis (no catches this season) to get him out into space.
Bengals run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Bengals have one of the league's most underrated offensive lines, so this matchup might be a tougher-than-expected challenge for the Ravens. The major change for that line is center Jerry Fontenot, who is replacing injured center Rich Braham for the second straight week. Rudi Johnson is a power runner and will do most of his damage between the tackles. That puts the onus on Ravens inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartwell. The Bengals are one of the few teams that effectively get blockers on Lewis. Still, the Ravens have a superior run defense, with only one running back having gained 100 yards against them in the past 15 games. Nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who is filling in for the injured Kelly Gregg, has to step up the way he did against Pittsburgh last week.
Bengals pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Cincinnati's top playmakers are at receiver, where Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick can score from anywhere on the field. But Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister took Johnson out of the game in their last meeting, limiting him to a season-worst two catches for 15 yards. The Ravens also handled Warrick, who averaged 8.1 yards on 11 receptions. First-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer works mostly along the sidelines, completing just four of 10 passes over the middle. The tight ends have been nonexistent in the Bengals' game plan. A key factor is how the Ravens' pass rush, which recorded 10 sacks in two games against the Bengals last year, affects Palmer. The Ravens have allowed just one quarterback to throw for more than 275 yards in a 22-game span.
Special teams: This area was a positive for the Ravens again last week. Matt Stover converted three field-goal attempts, Dave Zastudil placed three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line and B.J. Sams ran back a punt for 33 yards to set up a field goal. Sams likely will field all the punts today because Deion Sanders (hamstring) is hurt. The play of Cincinnati's special teams fluctuates. Its coverage team recovered a fumble for the second straight game last week, then, the Bengals gave up a long punt return in the fourth quarter to set up Miami's game-tying field goal. Returner T.J. Houshmandzadeh has chosen to fair catch more often than run back punts. Punter Kyle Larson (43.8-yard average) and kicker Shayne Graham (4-for-5 on field goals) are average.
Intangibles: There is a strong local buzz surrounding the Bengals, who have won six of their past seven games at Paul Brown Stadium. That success has led to a five-game sellout streak. Strange occurrences have followed the Ravens to Cincinnati, where they have lost in two of their past three visits. In those losses, the Ravens have turned the ball over nine times, resulting in 38 points.
Prediction: Turnovers have been the Ravens' downfall in Cincinnati. This time, the Ravens will win because of them. Their pass rush will force Palmer into critical mistakes, setting up easy scores for their offense.
Records: Ravens 1-1, Bengals 1-1.
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2 .
Vs. spread: Ravens 1-1, Bengals 0-2.
Series: Ravens lead 11-5.
Last meeting: Ravens won, 31-13, on Dec. 7, 2003, in Baltimore.
Ravens offense: Overall (26), rush (11), pass (30t).
Ravens defense: Overall (9t), rush (8), pass (12).