Two-hundred-and-fifty-two days ago, the Bengals topped the Ravens 27-10 at home. Ultimately, that victory didn’t matter – it was one of only five that the Bengals had last season and the team wasn’t remotely close to playoff contention. Now, after another cycle of offseason musical chairs, the Bengals will look to kick off the 2017 on a better foot, with the exact same matchup.
Here’s a quick overview overview of what to know going in.
For the Bengals, two players are listed as unavailable: reserve tight end C.J. Uzomah and strong safety Shawn Williams. Of the six players listed on Baltimore’s injury report, only one (cornerback Sheldon Price) isn’t a full-go for kickoff. Joe Flacco, Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, and Ronnie Stanley should all be on the field.
Flacco, having been held out through most of the offseason due to injury concerns, might look a little unrefined being thrown into live action. Regardless, he gives the Ravens a better chance to win than backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, if the backup’s preseason showing is any indication.
On Cincinnati’s side, Williams is a plus starter and Derron Smith behind him is a relative unknown. It’s a coverable weakness, but it’s one both teams will be conscious of.
The Ravens’ defense is young all-around, but it’s not a unit with any clear weaknesses. I consulted Ravens Managing Editor T.J. Ray, who’s very high on the group.
“I believe the defensive depth chart is pretty solidified right now,” he said. “Despite their youth, the defense has played really well together throughout training camp and preseason.”
As with most divisional teams, the Bengals and Ravens know each other well from their historical interaction. This usually means one of two things regarding the game plan: do what’s worked before, or show them something they haven’t seen.
In the case of the former, that would start with a heavy dose of A.J. Green. Per Pro Football Reference, Green has compiled 604 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his last five games against Baltimore. In the case of the latter, that would mean a heavier dose of rookies John Ross and Joe Mixon than most fans would expect to see. Both are healthy heading into the season – it would be an unexpected move for offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, but it wouldn’t be a bad one.
Another point on conversation with Ray was the offensive backfield. On a depth chart that appears stocked with good-but-not-great veteran names, Terrance West headlining the running back position stands out as particularly interesting.
On this, Ray said a couple of interesting things: one, that Danny Woodhead will likely receive most of the passing down work, as he always has throughout his career. Two: that he expects recent practice squad additions Jeremy Langford and Alex Collins to both be elevated to the roster during the season. While West is a serviceable back and a plus short-yardage option, he may not finish at the head of the pack in any given game, let alone over the season.
With Smith in for the injured Shawn Williams, in addition to cornerback Darqueze Dennard in for the suspended Adam Jones, the Ravens have a couple of players that they might want to test in the vertical passing game. They don’t necessarily have top-flight weapons, but they have a potent mix between Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. This could look like a relative non-issue with proper management – defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has to manage his blitzes carefully, but he also needs to maintain pressure.
Bengals 20, Ravens 17
I could see Flacco coming in hot off of a light offseason, but I could also see him lacking coordination with his targets. Still, the Ravens are a team built to keep scores low. For the Bengals, a lot depends on how quickly they can get to Flacco, but offensively it depends on the performance of Green and their rookies. Mixon and Ross could both explode onto the scene, but it seems more likely they’ll combine for five to ten touches over the game and break one or two big plays between them.
In a tight contest, I’ll give the edge to the home team with the series lead and more potential for excitement.
–Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32