You never want to say week 1 of the NFL season is a must-win game, but in a competitive division like the AFC North, losing to a divisional opponent in the opening week of the season can put an immediate damper on the season. The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to start the season off right with a big division win on Monday Night Football in Baltimore.
Last season, the Ravens took both meetings, winning by a combined 15 points in the two victories. The Ravens won 31-24 last season in week 11 when they hosted the Bengals. Ray Rice stole the show in both games, as he gashed the Bengals’ 10th-ranked run defense for 295 yards rushing to go with four rushing touchdowns in both games combined. The Bengals conversely had a tough time running on the Ravens’ second-ranked run defense, which put rookie quarterback Andy Dalton in compromising situations. Dalton had only one touchdown pass in the two games, but had three interceptions. The Ravens strong secondary, led by Ed Reed, Ladarius Webb and Cary Williams will look to continue to give Dalton fits this season.
The Ravens offense had no problems with the Bengals defense as they put up a combined 55 points in their two matchups. Joe Flacco wasn’t spectacular in either game, but he took great care of the pigskin as he had only one turnover in both games combined. The lack of turnovers allowed Rice to do his thing, which proved to be the winning formula for the Ravens. In last season’s home victory over the Bengals, wide receiver Torrey Smith scorched Cincinnati’s defense for 165 yards and a touchdown. The speedster Smith will look to try to match those numbers as he enters his second season looking primed for a breakout year.
Running on the Ravens won’t be much easier this season, as the Bengals new starting running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis will find out. Green-Ellis has been banged up for most of the preseason and is coming off a bit of a lackluster season in New England. Dalton and star wide receiver A.J. Green will need to get their sophomore campaigns off to a solid start to keep the Ravens’ defense off-balance and give Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott a chance to run the ball. Tight end Jermaine Gresham will have to be Dalton’s security blanket when the Ravens’ pass rush puts pressure on Dalton. The positive for the Bengals offense is that the Ravens will be without the reigning NFL defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs as he continues to rehab a torn Achilles tendon. The Bengals hope the injury to T-Sizzle, combined with some experience against the Ravens last season will prove to be beneficial as they strive for more consistency and less turnovers against the Ravens’ staunch defense.
The Ravens swept the entire division last season, and have won their last three meetings with the Bengals. Expect more of the same this week as the Ravens and their number one ranked offense from the preseason (yes I know it’s only the preseason) will run wild on the Bengals. As long as Flacco continues to take care of the football, expect the Ravens to control the clock. Rice should have another field day on Monday night as 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns seem very feasible
An intangible for the Ravens could also be getting an emotional lift as they will pay tribute to their late former owner, Art Modell. Modell brought football back to Baltimore and is viewed as a hero in the landscape of Baltimore sports. Modell was also crucial in working out a television contract for the NFL when it was still a fledgling league looking to be seen in homes across the country. Modell was paramount in helping create Monday Night Football, and coincidentally, his Ravens will open the season on MNF. Players like Ray Lewis viewed Modell as a father-figure, and we know how good Lewis is at pumping up his team. Playing in memory of their late former owner will definitely give the Ravens a little extra bounce in their step as well.
Ultimately, look for the Ravens’ combination of offensive balance and stingy defense to keep their division winning streak alive as I predict a 27-17 victory for the Ravens.