BYE-maggedon concludes on Monday night with a game of great importance. The Baltimore Ravens need a win to remain one game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals for first place in the AFC North. A victory for the New Orleans Saints at home would give them the same record as the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sunday wins by division foes have made victory in this game even more paramount for both teams. A loss for either now leaves them vulnerable with less than half of the season remaining.
The Ravens, and starting QB Lamar Jackson, have won two consecutive games and appeared to be well on their way to their first division championship since 2019. They have already defeated the second-place Bengals whose best player, Ja’Marr Chase, is on injured reserve for a minimum of two more weeks with a hip injury. Also, the Bengals got smoked last Monday night by a division rival, the sub-.500 Cleveland Browns.
Sure the Atlanta Falcons were a game ahead of the Saints for the NFC South lead, but we’re talking about the Falcons. A franchise with a unique capability to lose in the most excruciating and ill-timed ways. It happened again during yesterday’s early slate of games. Tied 17-all, with 34 seconds remaining against the Los Angeles Chargers, Austin Ekeler fumbled, and Ta’Quon Graham scooped up only to drop the ball on the ground 19 yards later without being touched. The Chargers recovered and went on to kick the field goal.
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That knocked the Falcons out of first place, and the Saints currently hold the tiebreaker against them. Unfortunately for the Saints, Tom Brady sprinkled what water he hadn’t already guzzled from the Fountain of Youth on that elbow, leading the Buccaneers on a game-winning touchdown drive that staved off a fourth consecutive loss for Tampa and stopped the Saints from reaching first place.
Off of a short practice week, the Bengals disposed of their Week 9 opponent by doing everything besides literally placing them in a dumpster. Following the Christian McCaffrey trade, the Carolina Panthers appeared rejuvenated after a win against the Buccaneers and an overtime loss to the Falcons. The Bengals moved as fast as possible on Sunday afternoon to destroy any good feelings in the Panthers organization by taking a 35-0 halftime lead. This victory pushed the Bengals record back over .500.
Now instead of this Monday Night Football matchup being for dominant positioning in a division, it has turned into a win that is necessary to set the table for the back half of the season. The Saints have a monster schedule remaining with road games against the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. While the Ravens’ schedule is much less grueling, they have quite a few divisional matchups remaining, including a Week 18 rematch with the Bengals — in Cincinnati.
With both teams dealing with injuries to key players, this is the type of win that can buy them some time while they try and get back to full strength to make that late playoff push.
An intra-conference primetime matchup at a rowdy Superdome against two teams with legitimate chances at a division. Not a bad way to end a week with six teams on a bye.