A rare, but certainly welcome Monday Night double-header takes place in Week 1, and it begins with a key clash in the competitive AFC North division. In 2011, the division had 3 play-off teams, and two of them will see each other Monday evening as the upstart Cincinnati Bengals travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. Both squads enter with lofty aspirations in 2012, and anything less than another post-season berth would be considered a big letdown. Though it’s only Week 1, these divisional clashes are pivotal to playoff hopes and will likely play a role in playoff positioning later in the season.
Baltimore was an excellent team last year, and if it wasn’t for a brutal missed catch in their playoff game against New England, it would’ve been the Ravens representing the AFC in last year’s Super Bowl. Though this a team carried by their aged, but ferocious defense, Baltimore still possesses an abundance of weapons on offense, and will remain one of the premier squads in the NFL this season.
Conversely, unlike the steady Ravens, the Bengals came out of nowhere last year to net an impressive playoff berth. Led by youngsters Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on offense, and buoyed by a solid defense, Cincinnati is a well-balanced squad, but ultimately one that should struggle to duplicate last season’s success. Add in the fact that this team looked overmatched in both outings against the Ravens last year, and Monday Night is a huge test for the Bengals in what could well be a tone-setting game for the rest of their season.
Bengals vs. Ravens Spread and Betting Odds:
Cincinnati Bengals +7 (-105)
@ Baltimore Ravens -7 (-115)
Over 41.5 (-110)
Under 41.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Bengals vs. Ravens Pick:
Don’t be too surprised if regression hits the Bengals this season, and hard. This was a team that greatly overachieved in 2011 and Marvin Lewis’ side will no longer have the luxury of sneaking up on teams that may have overlooked them in the past. The Bengals face a much tougher schedule in 2012, and won`t likely receive the same fortunes they did in 2011, when they lost only 22 starts to injury.
The intriguing adjustment for the favoured Ravens in this contest will be to observe how their heralded defense performs without Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs is gone for the season with an Achilles injury, and is a huge loss for Baltimore. He is a large presence both in the Ravens locker-room and on the field, not to mention he`s a ferocious pass-rusher. His absence will certainly hurt Baltimore, but years of experience and quality from stars such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata mean this remains one of the premier defenses in the NFL.
Viewers should also expect a new-look offense to be unveiled by Baltimore as the team seems adamant on turning their base offence into the no-huddle. Much-maligned quarterback Joe Flacco looked very solid running this attack in the pre-season, and with a wealth of quick receivers at his disposal, Flacco and the Ravens should experience much success through the air against Cincinnati. While the Bengals` secondary is competent when at full-strength, they`ll be without first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick and be counting upon old veterans in Terrence Newman and Nate Clements to guard the likes of Pro-Bowl calibre receivers in Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
Both defenses are very stout against the run so expect a lot of passing from both teams Monday evening. While the Ravens look comfortable and competent in their new scheme, it remains to be seen if Andy Dalton can duplicate his success of last season. The Ravens are a dangerous defensive squad, and though A.J. Green is a handful for any defense, Baltimore certainly possesses the personnel to limit the damage the former Georgia Bulldog can do.
Expect the Ravens to come out firing in their first game on a Monday night in front of their rowdy home fans. Though their defense won`t be as good without Suggs, they remain a premier unit that should dominate the line of scrimmage against an uncertain Bengals offensive line. Cincinnati`s newest addition in the backfield of Benjarvus Green-Ellis will have little room to run against the beastly Haloti Ngata, and expect Dalton to be under siege for the majority of the game. The Ravens are the better team in every facet of this game, and to only lay a touchdown at home seems like a fair wager. Baltimore comfortably won both match-ups against Cincinnati last season, and they should begin their season in similar fashion with a comfortable win over their division rival.
Finally, though the Ravens minus seven seems like the more solid play, the Ravens quick new offense, combined with both teams likely being forced to the air, also makes the Over seem like a solid consideration. And despite this being a blatantly square observation, perhaps a teaser on the Ravens and Over would also make for a solid Monday Night Football wager.
PICK = Ravens -7 (-115)