Week 1: Baltimore Ravens Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
- QuarterbackJoe Flacco rarely gets categorized with the top quarterbacks in the game, but what he lacks in notoriety he makes up for in guts. Flacco has a plus arm, is usually at his best in big games and his teammates believe in him.Little was expected from the Bengals in 2011, particularly with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton taking over for Carson Palmer. However, Dalton started all 16 games, threw for more than 3,000 yards and developed into one of the league’s most surprising up-and-coming players.
- OffenseFew NFL teams can get the explosive plays out of their running game that the Ravens get with speedy Ray Rice. Anquan Boldin is not a fancy or polished wide receiver. However, he is a tough guy who will make plays even if he does not run the most polished route. Torrey Smith is one of Flacco’s favorite receivers because he will not drop the ball.The most exciting player on the offensive side of the ball is wide receiver A.J. Green, who caught 65 passes as a rookie for 1,057 yards. He has speed and can go up and get the ball. Look for hard-working BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take advantage of a solid offensive line and give the Bengals a credible ground game.
- DefenseThe Ravens will not have outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to rush the passer for quite a while, but they still have Ray Lewis to run the show from the left inside linebacker spot. Yes, he has slowed down but he’s still a leader. Free safety Ed Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard are a joy to behold.Mike Zimmer has done an excellent job turning the Bengal defense into a fast-moving and hard-hitting bunch. The Bengals ranked fourth in yards allowed per play last season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins destroys the interior run.
- Special TeamsBilly Cundiff paid the price for missing the game-tying field goal in the AFC Championship game when he was cut in training camp. (Later signed by Washington.) Rookie Justin Tucker of Texas takes over and he has a big leg for kickoffs.The Bengals like Mike Nugent at placekicker. He returned from ACL surgery to make 33-of-38 field goals last season. Kevin Huber is an above average punter who has good directional skills.
The Bengals usually struggle when expectations are anything but a losing season. Andy Dalton must pick up from where he left off and Marvin Lewis must shepherd the team along. The Ravens are perennial contenders and last year’s painful AFC Championship game loss to New England may spur them this season. Baltimore controls the season opener.