MNF: Bengals vs Ravens

MNF: Bengals vs Ravens

When it comes to football, Monday isn’t just another day. Monday Night Football is more like a phenomenon than another TV event. It’s something that not only makes Mondays much less mundane for the sports fan, but also allows for big advertising opportunities for businesses on these evenings of extremely high viewership. Monday Night Football … it’s tradition.

This season’s Monday Night Football gets going September 10, 2012 when the Cincinnati Bengals march into M&T Bank Stadium to face off against their divisional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Which AFC North rival will triumph? Baltimore was just a field-goal [plus some O.T.] away from the Super Bowl last year, and the Bengals, very fortunately, sneaked into the playoffs even though they lost to this same Baltimore team in the final week of the regular season. The Ravens may only lead the all-time series 18-14, but this week’s game should be a bit more lopsided than that.

Fun Fact: September 10, 2007- the Bengals defeated the Ravens 27-20 to start the season in a game that took place in Cincinnati.

The Bengals spent last season under the radar and finished 9-7, losing to the Texans in the AFC Wildcard Playoff game 31-10. The Ravens finished last year’s regular season 1st in the AFC North with a 12-4 record, and went on to defeat the Texans 20-13 but lose to the Patriots 23-20 in the AFC Championship game.

This season, Baltimore will be looking to their QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice to [finally] get them back to the Super Bowl. Cincinnati hopes the duo of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green can get them back into the playoffs, and maybe even win a game. Monday night’s game should follow AccuScore’s simulations, which had the Ravens winning the match-up almost 73% of the time, and end with a potentially easy victory for Baltimore.

Baltimore is a 6.5-point favorite with the total set at 41.

My favorite part of this match-up: Baltimore Defensive line vs Cincinnati Offensive line. The Ravens have a demoralizing pass rush (48 sacks in 2011), which tied them for third-most in the NFL. On the other side, you have an offensive line that allowed just 24 sacks last season, and should continue to be solid in 2012. The Ravens won’t have the beast that is Terrell Suggs (career-high 14 sacks in 2011) until November due to his torn right Achilles tendon. LB Paul Kruger will fill in and needs to play to his potential each play in order for the Baltimore pass rush to be even nearly as potent as it was last year. LB Ray Lewis, DT Haloti Ngata, and S Ed Reed led a defense that finished third the league in scoring defense (16.6 PPG) and total defense (289 YPG) last year.

The Bengals will try to take advantage of Suggs not being there and let BenJarvus Green-Ellis (667 yards for New England in 2011, 1,008 in 2010) get plenty of touches in the run-oriented offense. Cincinnati’s other running back, Bernard Scott, won’t play Week 1 at Baltimore due to a hand injury. Any Cincy fan reading this should hope that Marvin Jones and the rest of the Bengals receivers are busy preparing for Ed Reed and the Ravens’ secondary. If A.J. Green starts seeing double-teams, Dalton’s job becomes much tougher than it needs to be.

Dalton is coming off a rookie season where he made the Pro Bowl and threw for 3,398 yards and 20 TDs with 13 interceptions. I do think Dalton can improve on those numbers, especially his efficiency, but Monday night’s match-up just doesn’t favor him at all. Baltimore ranked 4th in the league in pass defense last year, allowing only 196 yards per game. In last season’s two matchups, Dalton threw for 1 TD and 3 INT versus the Ravens. AccuScore’s simulations have him throwing for 216 yards, with a higher probability of an INT than a TD. I don’t think he gets past 200 yards for the night.

For the Ravens, any chance at losing this game will stem from multiple interceptions thrown by Flacco. In his career, he has faced the Bengals 8 times (5-3), and threw at least two interceptions in those three losses. Last season, he threw for 400 yards and 2 TDs in his two games against the Bengals. AccuScore’s simulations have him throwing for 235 yards, a number that actually might not be too high for him. In the past, Flacco’s main issue against the Bengals has always been their cover-2 defense; once CB Johnathan Joseph went to Houston, Flacco’s efficiency improved against the Bengals, a trend that should continue this season.

Ray Rice has shouldered much of the responsibility on offense for years and although that won’t change a whole lot this season, Baltimore’s plan to use the no-huddle will limit some of his runs. If the passing game isn’t working out, Flacco has a guy right there [Rice] who is pretty, pretty good at moving the ball. If they do continue with the no-huddle, Rice might just make more plays on the outside and give Flacco another receiving threat. The last time Rice faced the Bengals, he had 191 yards, with a 70-yard TD to start the game and a 51-yard TD later on.

The Bengals are winless against the Ravens in their last three meetings. Sure, they’ve managed to keep all the games close, with the biggest margin being only 8 points, but I expect the losing streak to continue this Monday. The Baltimore D will focus on not letting A.J. Green make big plays, while the Cincinnati D will have trouble stopping Ray Rice. Most of the score predictions I’ve seen have kept the game between 3-7 points, with AccuScore’s simulations giving a 24-16 score (on average). The Ravens know it’s a big game and are going to come out ready for it, I’ll say 24-13 Ravens win.