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Ravens Enter Bengals Lair

Trying to start off this post with a catchy headline, the Baltimore Ravens head into week 2 with a 1-0 record, but face a tough and angry Cincinnati Bengals team that lost last week but swept the AFC North, including the Ravens twice last season.

However, this is a new year and both teams seem to be headed for solid seasons and today's game will give both team's fans a better idea of where they rank in the division and perhaps overall in the league. Right now it looks as if you wanted to do some NFL football betting online, the oddsmakers like the Ravens better than the Bengals, as the visiting Baltimore team is favored by a field goal on the road. Usually the home team is given three points for just being at home, so if the Ravens were three point underdogs, the game would almost be considered even. For Baltimore to be a field goal favorite show that the betting money is being heavily laid on the Ravens winning today.

Theoretically speaking, I would give the points too if I were to wager my hard earned salary on this game, and here is why:

The Ravens may have lost twice to the Bengals last season but as I said this is another year and besides, that first game was a mess for Baltimore, as they squandered chances and gave up the winning TD in the last moments after penalties allowed the Bengals to continue their game winning drive. Joe Flacco's passing game was looking good against the weaker teams but he was miserable in the two losses. However, he now has the targets he's needed and the team has such versatility on offense that they are a much different opponent in 2010.

Some may point to the lack of that explosive offense making an appearance in game one at the New York Jets, but for Flacco to still have 248 yards passing against what might be one of the top defenses in the league is still impressive. Seeing what the Bengals gave up through the air much less the ground, should give the Ravens offense a chance to get untracked today. However, the Ravens are still a run-first offense and Ray Rice should get his chances to break one open. If not, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and the returning T.J. Houshmandzadeh should pose a much bigger threat to the Bengals than their previous receiving corps ever did. For perhaps the first time in Ravens history, stacking the box and daring the Ravens to beat you through the air may prove disastrous to opponents due to the revamped air attack.

Conversely, the Ravens defense appears to be the same old one that bends between the 20's but does not break once they are backed up to the Red Zone. The Bengals and their fans were encouraged by the improvements they seemed to make in the second half last week when they finished with 24 points, but the 14 point final difference is no way an indication of how close the game was, which it wasn't. Any way you look at it, giving up 38 points does not bode well for any defense.

Doubtful that the Ravens will put that many points on the board against the Bengals at home today, but even 20 points or more should be enough to win the game in this rivalry, as neither team scored more than 17 in their two meetings last season. However, I now see the Ravens scoring points in bunches the rest of the season as they begin to get more comfortable with their new components. Flacco's confidence is soaring and he has so many options that the only concern might be who to throw to, not ,is anyone open?

I'm still not sold on whether or not Carson Palmeris still an elite QB or whether there is enough mustard to spread on the combination of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. 85 had a great game last week and always loves playing the Ravens but if Baltimore can pressure Palmer early and often, they should be able to keep the damage to a minimum. My biggest concern in the pass coverage is their rookie tight end over the deeper middle which could open the outside for the wideouts.

At the same time, I just do not see Cincinnati outscoring the Ravens offense nor their our defense letting them into the end zone enough to win their first game of the year. Knocking the "monkey of losing to the Bengals of the Ravens' backs and starting the season 2-0, while Cincy falls to 0-2, is a huge leap forward for the Ravens, especially with the team'sfirst home game next week against the lowly Cleveland Browns coming up.

Ravens:  20-10  (Join us for an 'Open Thread' as we get closer to game time)