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BYE-maggdon ends with a game of great importance on Monday night. The Baltimore Ravens need a win to stay a game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals for first place in the AFC North. A home win for the New Orleans Saints would give them the same record as the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sunday wins from division opponents made winning this game even more important for both teams. A loss for both now leaves them vulnerable with less than half of the season left.
The Ravens and beginning QB Lamar Jackson have won two straight games and appear to be on track to their Premier League championship since 2019. They’ve already defeated the second-placed Bengals, whose top player, Ja’Marr Chase, is on injured reserve for at least two more weeks with a hip injury. Also, the Bengals were smoked last Monday night by a division rival, the Cleveland Browns under-500.
Sure, the Atlanta Falcons were a game ahead of the Saints to take the NFC South lead, but we’re talking about the Falcons. A franchise with a unique ability to lose in the most excruciating and inappropriate ways. It happened again during yesterday’s early games. Tie 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 to the floor 19 yards later without being touched. The Chargers recovered and proceeded to kick the field gate.
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That knocked the Falcons out of first place, and the Saints are currently holding the tiebreaker against them. Unfortunately for the Saints, Tom Brady splashed the water he hadn’t already drunk from the Fountain of Youth onto that elbow and led the Buccaneers to a game-winning touchdown drive that staved off a fourth straight loss for Tampa and prevented the Saints from going forward achieve first place.
After a short week of practice, the Bengals disposed of their opponent in Week 9 by doing everything but literally putting him in a dumpster. After Christian McCaffrey’s trade, the Carolina Panthers looked rejuvenated after beating the Buccaneers and losing to the Falcons in overtime. The Bengals went as fast as they could on Sunday afternoon to shatter any good feelings in the Panthers organization by taking a 35-0 lead at halftime. This win brought the Bengals record back to over .500.
Rather than being about dominant positioning in a division, this Monday Night Football match has evolved into a win necessary to set the table for the second half of the season. The Saints still have a monster plan with away games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Ravens’ schedule is a lot less demanding, they still have a few divisional matchups left, including a Week 18 rematch with the Bengals — in Cincinnati.
With both teams grappling with key player injuries, this is the kind of win that can buy them some time while they try to get back to full strength to make that late playoff push.
A prime-time intra-conference matchup in a scrappy Superdome against two teams with legitimate divisional odds. Not a bad way to end a six-team week on a bye.