GameDay (MNF Opener Edition): Cincinnati at Baltimore

If Sunday’s results were any indication tonight’s Bengals-Ravens game might be between the two best teams in the AFC North and possibly two playoff teams. And, if you think you have any idea exactly what will happen in this game you’re nuts. It could be an Eagles over Browns 17-16 game or it could be a stunning upset like Washington’s 40-32 blitzing of New Orleans at the Superdome.
Going all the way back to 2008 the teams have been fairly evenly matched on the gridiron, letting their defenses to the talking. Baltimore owns a 5-3 advantage in those eight games, mostly in part to last year’s sweep. But only one game – a late-season battle in 2008 – was a blowout. (Baltimore won that game 37-3).
All the hype being made about rookie quarterbacks is great and adding second-year guys like Cam Newton into that mix is nice as well. But don’t forget about Andy Dalton. All the guy did at TCU was win. All he did in Cincinnati last year was win. He’s not flashy, nor does he go out of his way to grab the headlines (no RGIII colorful socks or Cam Newton pouts). Unfortunately that puts him on the backburner in the media’s eye and that’s unfortunate. We’ll see if he gets his revenge on Monday Night Football this evening.
Tonight’s Important Numbers (5Dimes)
LINE: Baltimore -8 (+110), Cincinnati +8 (-130)
OVER/UNDER: 40 ½ (O: -123, Under: +103)
The Breakdown
Jamie already took a look attonight’s player props for this game and it’s a great read. Despite losses on defense the Ravens are still the class of the AFC North. It became even more evident last night as the Steelers looked slow and are showing their age even more so than people thought in 2011. Joe Flacco, while he doesn’t spit out 300-yard games, is usually efficient. He’ll throw incompletions but he doesn’t waste passes (read: audible to a pass just to sling the ball around). Last year’s season finale against the Bengals is a good example: 15 of 19 for 130 yards and one touchdown. Rarely will you see a NFL QB these days throw the ball just 19 times but it was Flacco’s decision making in that game that allowed Baltimore to escape with a 24-16 road victory.
Forget the spread right now; just take a look at the over/under. It’s a perfect-but-deadly number. The Ravens hit the over and under (on 40 ½) eight times each last regular season. In fact, nine games totaled between 39 and 45 points. What that tells you is you have a pretty good range where Baltimore games will end up; you just don’t know the side. Only five times last season did Baltimore surrender more than 20 points and, not surprisingly three of the team’s four losses happened when the defense wasn’t on lockdown.
The Bengals, on the other hand, only had six games below that mark. The Bengals tended to play in a lot of mid-40s to 50-total point games. Then again, there was also that snoozer to San Francisco in late September. There’s a good chance it’s the NFL’s only recorded 13-8 game.
It’s Week 1 and offenses always come around slower than defenses. It’s a proven fact according to the Mackinder Book of Knowledge. There were some firework games yesterday (see Washington-New Orleans, Atlanta-Kansas City, and Buffalo-NY Jets. Heck, even the Bears and Colts lit up the scoreboard. I didn’t analyze each game’s box score but from highlights it did seem like an inordinate amount of scoring came in the fourth quarter of those games. I mean, I witnessed live how the Lions and Rams combined for 26 points through three quarters only to score a combined 24 points in the final 15 minutes.
The Bengals have opened on the road the past two years and scored 24 and 27 points, respectively, against the Patriots and the Browns. The Ravens, on the other hand, have been far less consistent. Baltimore lit up Pittsburgh for 35 points in last year’s opener. In 2010, however, Baltimore wanted to bore the world with a 10-9 win against the Jets.
The pick
Through 14 Week 1 games only four games have totaled fewer than 40 ½ points. Now, while you shouldn’t necessarily look at league-wide trends for your betting habits, it’s definitely something to note. Then again, no matchup pit featured two defenses with the type of reputations the Bengals and Ravens have. Nevertheless, this game is mightily important for those who used my AFC North preview as a season-long guide for these teams.
That being said, the Ravens show they can beat any team, especially the Bengals, in various ways last year. The first meeting, a 31-24 Baltimore win, showcased Flacco’s arm (270 yards) and used Ray Rice (104 yards) as a compliment. The season finale put Rice (191 yards) on display as Flacco rested his arm (130 yards). The key to the game will be not if Baltimore can adjust on offense to what the Bengals are doing defensively but how quickly. If it’s halftime in a 7-6 game it might be too little, too late to score that many points. However, if it takes a series or two then the Ravens could really put on a show. I wouldn’t make a play on the over/under, but I’d lean toward the over in what I foresee as a 24-20 type of game.
I’ve learned that, especially in Week 1, giving the points usually backfires (see Lions -9 vs. St. Louis). In a contest that could be a field goal contest an 8-point spread is enormous. The Bengals could very well win this game, which makes the spread seem that much more like a joke. Take the Bengals with confidence; they’ll cover and – gasp! – possibly win the game. Book It!