by Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts's AFC North hunting expert
When the Ravens demolished the Bengals in the Monday Night opener, my prediction of a 2012 Cincinnati regression looked valid. That was 20 days ago. Now the Bengals are 3-1 and tied with Baltimore for first place in the division.
I’m not going to pretend the Bengals have beat anyone. Their wins are over the Redskins, Browns and Jaguars - three teams with a combined record of 3-9. However, no one can deny the wealth of young offensive talent on this team and if they continue to improve, Cincinnati should contend with Baltimore all year long.
Here are five takeaways from this weekend's action.
1. Andy Dalton to AJ Green is one of the best hookups in football. (Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 10)
Both players made the Pro Bowl as rookies and neither is taking a step back this season. In fact, each has taken his game to the next level, especially Green, who may be emerging as one of the two or three best wide receivers in the game. He has scored in every one of Cincinnati’s three consecutive wins. The Bengals are now 7-3 when Green scores a touchdown.
Dalton also excels when the Bengals win. In the blowout loss to the Ravens. Dalton completed only 59.5 percent of his passes, threw no touchdowns and was intercepted once. In Cincinnati's three game winning streak, Dalton completed 74.1 percent of his passes and threw six touchdown passes compared to two interceptions. In the last three weeks, Cincinnati has flown up the rankings in Real Quarterback Rating.
2. Baltimore is enjoying a well-deserved rest. (Ravens 23, Browns 16)
The Ravens’ 3-1 start is even more impressive when you consider how much they have played in such a limited amount of time. From Monday, September 10, through Thursday, September 27, the Ravens played four games. All this talk about protecting player safety and you have guys play four times in two-and-a-half weeks.
Now, following a 23-16 win over Cleveland, the Ravens are in the middle of a nine-day break. Baltimore averaged two games in that stretch to begin the season. The team should take this opportunity to rest up a defense that hasn’t excelled the way we are used to seeing. The Ravens entered Week 4 ranked outside the top 10 in virtually every defensive quality stat, including an abysmal 26th in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
3. Brandon Weeden is part of a terrific quarterback class.
Say what you want about the shortcomings of guys like Weeden and Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, but the four first-round quarterbacks starting in the NFL right now are putting up phenomenal numbers.
Weeden’s 320 yards on Thursday night gives him 997 yards on the season. After Sunday’s action, RG3, Ryan Tannehill and an idle Andrew Luck are also killing it in the passing game. The league is in the middle of a passing renaissance and rookies are joining in on the success. Weeden and his first-round comrades are averaging 263.93 yards per game, which would put each first rounder over 4,000 yards on the season.
4. Ben Roethlisberger has been super-efficient.
The Steelers were on a bye this week, but that didn’t prevent them from remaining one of the top passing teams in the league. Pittsburgh is a disappointing 1-2 this season, but Roethlisberger isn’t the reason.
Big Ben is having one of his best seasons to date, having thrown eight touchdowns and one interception in three games. Pittsburgh is currently third in Real Quarterback Rating and Offensive Passer Rating.
5. Divisional power rankings: Week 4
4. Cleveland: It’s been a trying year for the Browns but with promising young offensive talent things are looking up.
3. Pittsburgh: Unlike the Browns, Steelers fans don’t have the future to look forward to. One has to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the black and gold.
2. Cincinnati: The Bengals have won three in a row and now contain the best young quarterback/wide receiver duo in the NFL.
1. Baltimore: The Ravens are living up to their preseason Super Bowl hype, so their success isn’t too surprising. The shocking part is that the teams’ success is being fueled by its offense.