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After beating the Ravens on Thursday Night Football, the Bengals are the sole leaders atop the AFC North for at least a week. An early takeaway? Right now, that division is wide-open.

By Ben Baskin
September 14, 2018

It may only be Week 2, but one thing is clear: the AFC North is up for grabs. The Bengals won on Thursday Night Football last night, beating the Ravens 34–23 (the same score by which Cincinnati beat Indianapolis last week) and advancing to 2–0, alone atop the division. The last time the Bengals started 2–0 in 2015, the team reached the playoffs. 

However the game revealed inconsistencies for both Cincinnati and Baltimore—neither team dominated and neither looked completely hapless. Every quarter the momentum just oscillated back and forth—the Bengals have control now ... no, wait ... the Ravens are good now ... no, no, wait. For a period of time it seemed like the team that got more pass interference calls in the end zone would end up the victor.

Cincinnati got off to a fast start—possibly emphasized by Baltimore, who appeared to slowly realize that the team was not playing against Nathan Peterman and the Bills anymore—highlighted by A.J. Green catching three touchdown passes in the first 17 minutes, the first three-TD game of the wide receiver’s career. Geno Atkins did Geno Atkins things, and the offensive line, even the much maligned right side which was abused against Indianapolis in Week 1, looked solid, if not staunch. Andy Dalton looked like it was 2013-15 again, when he was thought of a soon-to-be breakout MVP candidate, as he tossed four touchdown passes in the first half and displayed more zip on his passes than we’ve seen from him in recent seasons. And as a result, the Bengals went into the half having scored 28 points, a total that they reached in only two games last season.

But then in the second half they became, well, the Bengals again as the Ravens showed some signs of life, at times. Joe Flacco went from Trash to Elite, back to Trash, back to Elite, seemingly alternating interceptions with touchdowns in what could be called a microcosm of his career. But as Cincinnati’s offense sputtered, Baltimore slowly narrowed the lead, bringing it to within five midway through the fourth quarter. But the Bengals managed to be just good enough to pull out the not-all-that-impressive win.

All this means, really, is that nobody is coming out of this game looking like the clear class of the division. With the Steelers looking vulnerable after tying Cleveland last week in an extremely ugly game, and conversely the Browns looking at least somewhat competent, this division may not give us the most visually pleasing football to watch this year, but with four competitive, inconsistent teams it will still be fascinating to see how the standings play out going forward.

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HOT READS

Now on The MMQB: Albert Breer on the Bills decision to start Josh Allen … Need fantasy football start/sit advice? Michael Beller has you covered … Our football experts give you their best picks for Week 2 … And our gambling gurus tell you the best most likely to pay off this weekend.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Yours truly on the only active NFL player to also be a medically licensed doctor … Robert Klemko was in Denver with Mama Griffin, and wrote a touching story on her son Shaquem’s impact that spans far beyond football … Confused about the new tackling rules? Jenny Vrentas breaks down the incredibly frustrating “body weight” call.


PRESS COVERAGE

1. Jalen Ramsey added another person to his hit list: Grandma.

2. Dak Prescott heard Landon Collins’s challenge, and responded.

3. Zay Jones apologized to Kelvin Benjamin for his mother's tweet.

4. Leonard Fournette called himself a “game-time decision” in the Jaguars AFC championship rematch with the Patriots on Sunday.

5. After vowing to play in the Packers Week 2 divisional showdown vs the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers has yet to practice this week with his sprained knee.

6. After pleading guilty to insider trading, Mychal Kendricks signed with the Seahawks.

7. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury has caused him to miss his second consecutive practice.

8. Le’Veon Bell is disappointed his teammates talked about his contract situation.


The Kicker

Let’s take a moment to recognize the Seattle Storm, who won their third WNBA title in dominating fashion on Wednesday night, sweeping the Washington Mystics. Sue Bird—the oldest player in the league at 37 years old, in her 16th season with the Storm, playing with a broken nose—was unflappable and transcendent, and this victory only further bolstered her legacy as a legend of the league. The precocious Breanna Stewart, now the youngest Finals MVP in WNBA history, was absolutely dominant, which we should have expected after her absolutely dominant college career. Still, it was incredible to watch her just take over games and simply will Seattle to wins.

If you’re rolling your eyes, stay with me here—I’ll be the first to admit I don’t follow the league nearly closely enough, but I caught a handful of playoff games and the talent level is so absurdly high and the games are wildly entertaining. If the league is good enough for Lebron, Kobe, Dwyane Wade and Earl Thomas to watch, then maybe you should give it a try next season.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com.

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