Cincinnati comes to Baltimore to start the season, just like the Ravens did when they started the 2007 at the Bengals on Monday Night Football. That game was a total debacle, with Steve McNair having a hand in three of the six turnovers in losing in front of a national TV audience. Still, the Ravens were in position to win the game, when former coach Brian Billick made some ridiculous playcalling decisions that absolutely cost them the game, at least in my mind.
This time it's in our crib and we get to avoid the prime time stage where the Ravens always seem to showcase their worst efforts. Whereas we were the defending AFC North champs at that time, now we're the bottom dwellers with tons of uncertainty, while the Bengals are the NFL's version of Britney Spears- a total trainwreck (sorry, Britney, I love you but needed the reference)! With all their offseason soap opera stories starring Chad Johnson, the legal issues, arrests and infighting, they should be a great way to get the season started with a convincing victory. Chad Johnson wanted out of Cincinnati, but then recanted. His post-TD theatrics, especially the one against the Ravens where he donned a yellow Hall of Fame blazer, would be missed in Cincinnati if he was traded. As much as Baltimore hates him, I would love to see him in Ravens purple, but we all know that ain't ever gonna happen!
Even with the Ravens uncertainty in so many areas on the offensive side of the football, this defense is still basically intact and healthy as well. That by itself makes us a very dangerous team, epecially at home where the Ravens still have one of the best winning records in the league. Of course, the Bengals will have zero success running the ball, so it will all probably come down to two things. First of all, the Ravens will need to put pressure on Carson Palmer, which could lead to interceptions and the short fields that the Ravens crave for this offense. With a strong pass rush, the pressure comes off the Ravens' secondary, which has always had problems with not only Johnson, but TJ Who'syourmomma as well. Giving Palmer limited time to throw will help the corners and minimize the damage these guys could do.
Offensively, the Ravens will be facing what has proven to be a woeful defense. Willis McGahee and even rookie Ray Rice should be able to rip off huge chunks of yardage against the Bungles run defense. This will take the pressure off of whomever lines up under center. Not only do we not know for sure who that will be, we don't even know who the center will be as of this posting. My prediction (and prayers) are with Jason Brown snapping the ball to Troy Smith. While Smith may still be relatively unknown, everyone knows (except Billick) what Kyle Boller's capabilities, or, uh, inabilities are. Rookie number one draft pick Joe Flacco is just not ready for the speed and strategy of the professional game (yes, even the Bengals) and should not be thrown to the drooling wolves right off the bat (wrong reference, eh?). Smith gives the Ravens questionable offensive line the variables needed to lead to success, as his mobility and better accuracy will provide the Ravens short passing game with a huge boost. Between McGahee and Rice blasting upfield on runs, the rollouts and quick sharp passes will confound and confuse the Bengals defense and open up the defense for a big play. While Smith is short in NFL QB terms, he has almost perfect technically sound mechanics, holds the ball high, which in my opinion (which of course is the only one that matters right now!), considerably negates the height issue.
Boller should still remain the backup, for now, as he is signed through the 2008 season. Based on Troy Smith's success, as well as health, that will determine how quickly the future of this franchise (Flacco) ascends to the starting position. Heck, if Brady Quinn can still sit in Cleveland, why can't Flacco carry a clipboard for the entire year? Look what that type of education did for San Diego's Philip Rivers. Wow, what a novel idea it would be to have a quarterback issue in Baltimore- and not because of ineptness!
Based on the above, in summary the Ravens defense will return to top form and force numberous turnovers. The offense will move surprisingly well against the poor Bengals defense and some of their new, hardhitting rookies (Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski) will make an impact on Special Teams. Opening Day and the Ravens will come out of it tied for first place in the AFC North with a 1-0 record. Yea!!!
Ravens: 27 -13