CINCINNATI -- As they begin preparations for their AFC North opener Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals are already bracing for a hostile welcome when they walk inside Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
The simple fact is, the Bengals are 2-0 and on a high as they sit atop the division standings. The host Ravens, meanwhile, are 0-2 and reeling after opening the season with back-to-back games on the West Coast. Until they returned from their Week 2 loss at Oakland in the wee hours Monday morning, they hadn't even been home since just before the season opener. After losing at Denver in Week 1, the Ravens opted to spend the past week in California while getting ready for the Raiders.
Needless to say, the Ravens will have a lot to play for this weekend. And their fans likely will be glad to finally see them playing inside familiar haunts.
As much as the Bengals would like to approach their Week 3 contest as if it were any other game, they know it wouldn't be wise to fully do that.
"I'm going to look at it as any other game, but this is a division game," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "They don't like us and we don't like them. So I know it's going to be ramped up just a little bit."
The Bengals have won the last three meetings, including a two-sweep of the Ravens last year.
"Their record doesn't show what type of team they are," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're going to get their best show and we know that."
Dalton has been a key reason why the Bengals have done well in their past three games against the Ravens. Turnovers contributed to his 1-4 mark against the division rival at the start of his career. Through his first five career outings versus Baltimore, Dalton threw seven interceptions and was sacked 14 times. While he had four interceptions in his first of the recent three straight wins, he's only been sacked twice in that same stretch. Dalton's line has protected better and he has made better decisions.
As the Bengals attempt to reclaim the AFC North crown after a year as division runners-up, they have to win games like Sunday's.
"These are the games that count more than others," Dalton said.
Kirkpatrick said Cincinnati must match the intensity it had in the home opener against San Diego this past week. The Bengals also to showcase the kind of physical, line-stepping play that helped them beat up the Raiders in the always intimidating O.co Coliseum the week before, he added. Confidence is what breeds that aggression, Kirkpatrick said.
"This ain't the same team, I don't feel like," the fourth-year corner said. "This is a whole other team. Different guys playing different roles. Different attitudes on the field. Different energy. We're all bouncing off each other. I want the D-line to get sacks. They want us to catch interceptions. It's just different from when I got here."
But one thing stays the same: the Ravens don't like the Bengals, and the Bengals don't like them, either. Cincinnati's gauntlet continues.