8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Bengals -1, Over/Under: 44
After an entertaining opening weekend, Week Two begins in the Queen City as the Cincinnati Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens in a key AFC North battle from Paul Brown Stadium. After a dismal start to the previous campaign, 2018 couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Ravens (1-0, 1st in AFC North), who absolutely dominated the Buffalo Bills in a 47-3 shellacking that was in all honesty far worse than the final score would indicate. As they have so often, Baltimore’s Defense utterly destroyed a poor Offense, with the hosts relegating the visiting side to a scant 153 Total Yards and a miserable 2-of-15 on Third Down. It’s no wonder that Buffalo changed course and decided NOT to start First Round Pick Josh Allen, for Nathan Peterman was served up as the proverbial sacrificial lamb, with the Backup Quarterback completing just 5-of-18 Passes for Twenty-Four Yards and Two Interceptions, while suffering Three Sacks to boot. However, his counterpart, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco had no such problems turning in a remarkably sharp performance in the Home Opener, connecting on 25-of-34 Attempts for 236 Yards and Three Touchdowns. In fact, John Harbaugh’s Offense looked better than they’ve been in quite sometime, racking up 369 Total Yards, including 117 Rushing Yards on Thirty-Four Carries, going 6-of-14 on Third Down, and possessing the football for over thirty-five minutes of play. Hell, they even scored on four consecutive possessions at one point, which isn’t something that we’re used to seeing from this Offense. Now they’ll be traveling to Cincinnati on a short week in an attempt to stake an early claim to the AFC North, with a good deal of payback on their minds. You see, heading into the final week of the 2017 Regular Season, the Ravens held nearly all the cards in becoming a Wild Card participant in the AFC Playoffs, with only a victory at home against the struggling Bengals standing in their way. This appeared to be a formality to many, particularly after they handled them with relative ease in a 20-0 shutout in the Season Opener at Paul Brown Stadium. However, the tables turned in the most heartbreaking of fashions, as the home side wasted a late lead with Andy Dalton hitting Tyler Boyd for a 49-Yard Touchdown with just forty-four seconds remaining, effectively ending their opponent’s hopes of returning to the Postseason after a three-year hiatus. Ironically, that shocking comeback allowed the Bills to end their own lengthy Playoff Drought, giving the Ravens the opportunity to repay both franchises in successive weeks. Since he was drafted back in 2008, Flacco has faced the Bengals on nineteen occasions, earning a 9-10 record in the process, while completing 60.3% of his Passes for an average of 203.2 Yards per Game on just 5.63 Net Yards per Attempt, with Nineteen Touchdowns in comparison to Twenty-Three Interceptions, which are by far and away his most against any single opponent. Furthermore, he’s just 2-5 in his last seven meetings with Cincinnati, and was 25-of-47 for 203 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception in last year’s Season Finale. With that said, this is a crucial season for Flacco, who has finally made it to the final term of the mammoth six-year contract that Baltimore invested in him after guiding them to victory in Super Bowl XLVII. His performance since that triumph has left much to be desired, going 38-36 as the Starter from 2013 to 2017 and throwing Ninety-Eight Touchdowns opposed to Seventy-Four Interceptions with a Passer Rating of just 82.1, leading the Franchise to select his eventual replacement, 2016 Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson, in the First Round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Granted, he got off to an extremely slow start a year ago after undergoing back surgery in the Offseason, which also caused the veteran to miss the entirety of the Preseason as well. It was a very different story this past Offseason, for Flacco looked very sharp throughout the Ravens’ preliminary schedule, and as healthy as he’s been in years. With the proverbial writing on the wall and his days likely numbered in Charm City, this campaign must serve as an audition for the 33-year old as he looks to the future.
Meanwhile, there were few teams in the league that needed to get off to a positive start more so than the Bengals (1-0, 1st in AFC North), who achieved that goal in Sunday’s 34-23 victory at the Indianapolis Colts. Rewind to a year ago, and Cincinnati began their 2107 Campaign in the worst of ways, dropping each of their first two contests which saw their Offensive Coordinator, Ken Zampese, relieved of his duties thank to a listless Offense that had managed to average just 11.0 Points per Game, and went the first two outings without a single Touchdown. Despite the change in playcalling, things only ever improved marginally for Marvin Lewis and his charges, who finished the term at a middling 7-9 and without the Postseason for a second consecutive year. To the shock of many, Lewis, who in sixteen years with the franchise has failed to earn a single Playoff Victory, managed to salvage another year as Head Coach, despite the general consensus being that this is indeed a team whose brief window as a contender as closed, and is trending downward. The same can also be said about Andy Dalton, who has served as Cincinnati’s starting Quarterback through the majority of those failures; the 30-year old struggled mightily through the 2017 term, completing just 59.9% of his Attempts for 3,320 Yards on 5.73 Net Yards per Attempt, with Twenty-Five Touchdowns to Twelve Interceptions, all the while posting a dismal Quarterback Rating of 45.7. Indeed, Lewis and Dalton have been for all intents and purposes joined at the hip since the Quarterback was drafted back in 2011, with both figures in dire need of a successful campaign in order to dampen the raging fires around them. And it’s fortunate for both of them that they managed to go on the road earnt hat aforementioned victory over Indianapolis, a performance in which the visiting side rallied back on a number of occasions, including a 13-Point Deficit in the Third Quarter, running off twenty-four unanswered points, with Safety Clayton Fejedelem delivering a jarring hit on Colts’ Tight End Jack Doyle, forcing a fumble in which he promptly returned for eighty-three yards for the clinching score. On the day, the Bengals were fairly balanced, totaling 330 yards of Offense, including 101 yards on twenty carries and another 229 yards through the air, while converting on 4-of-8 Third Downs. Dalton was solid, completing 21-of-28 Attempts for 243 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, while Sophomore Tailback Joe Mixon definitely looks like he has what it takes to be the team’s featured weapon in the Backfield, rushing for Ninety-Five Yards and a score on seventeen carries, while reeling in Five Receptions for another Fifty-Four Yards. Seven-Time Pro Bowler A.J. Green got off to an excellent start to 2017 collecting Six Receptions on Eight Targets for Ninety-Two Yards and a Touchdown, while Tight End Tyler Eifert has benefitted from a healthy Offseason, adding another Forty-Four Yards on Three Catches. Particularly notable was the performance of the rebuilt Offensive Line, which added former Pro Bowl Left Tackle Cordy Glenn via the Buffalo Bills in Free Agency and selected Center Billy Price with their First Round Pick in the NFL Draft. Dalton was only sacked twice on Sunday, and was afforded the luxury of a clean Pocket, which is not something he that enjoyed much of in 2017. Like most Quarterbacks, this guy plays much better when he’s not being pressured, and his resume’ absolutely supports that notion; in 2015, which was arguably his finest season, Dalton posted a career-best 70.0 Quarterback Rating thanks in large part to sustaining just twenty sacks, parlaying to yet another career-high, 7.71 Net Yards per Attempt, though struggled mightily in the two following terms, sporting successive Quarterback Ratings of 50.8 and 45.7 with a cumulative total of eighty sacks (6.15 NY/A) being the prime culprit.