Smack-Down at M&T and AFC North Week 2 Predictions


September 10, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; National Anthem flyby prior to the Bengals/Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium.

A true smack-down.  That’s my initial impression of the Ravens home opener against the Bengals Monday night.  I try to avoid trash talk whenever possible, but I really couldn’t come up with another phrase that accurately captured the essence of the game.

From the A-10 flyby performed by my Maryland Air National Guard colleagues to the final whistle, the game was an unqualified success.  I can’t remember the last time the Ravens put over 40-points on the board (after a little research I found out this last occurred when the Ravens crushed Detroit 48-3 on Dec 13, 2009).

Much has been said of the Ravens performance on offense.  As predicted by many, the Ravens were able to use the no-huddle to keep the pressure on a normally strong Cincy defense.  Joe did a masterful job reading defenses and calling the correct plays or executing audibles to get favorable matchups.  Ray Rice also had a much greater impact than his 93-yard stat line suggests.  In addition to his two rushing touchdowns, Cincinnati’s LBs were forced to constantly follow Little Ray wherever he went, completely opening up the field for Pitta and Dickson (not to mention the reverse).  The only other word that needs to be mentioned about the offense is SMITH-BOLDEN-JONES-LEACH-OUTSTANDING.

September 10, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Ed Reed (20) scores a touchdown on an interception return during the Bengals game.

On the defensive side of the ball the Ravens secondary looked strong.  They held Dalton to 221 passing yards, and limited the second year phenom, AJ Green, to 70-yards.  After a short scare in the second quarter, when the Bengals were able to sustain a long scoring drive, the defense rose to the occasion and basically shut down the Cincy offense in the second half.  And, oh by the way, Ed Reed slammed the door shut on any possible Bengals comeback and continued his march to Canton with his third quarter pick-6.

The only major criticisms I can summon for the Ravens’ lead-off performance are a few inadvisable tosses by Flacco (that luckily did not result in interceptions) and a rather lackluster run defense that allowed Green-Ellis to average 5.1 yards per carry.

That said, the Bengals game is now water under the bridge and it’s time to look forward to week 2.  Last week I went on the record with 4 picks, the 3 AFC North matchups and an upset of the week (DAL over NYG).  I was 100%, so here goes nothing:

Cleveland at Cincinnati (Sun, 1:00pm EDT, CBS)

What Vegas says: Cincinnati by 7.

What I think:  Take the Bengals and the points in this one.  Sure, the final score of the Cleveland-Philly game gave the impression that the Browns almost beat a good Philly team, but that score is more indicative of the Eagles’ mistakes than any real Cleveland success.  Take away one or two of Vick’s interceptions and that game would have been nowhere near as close.

Cleveland will also be taking their rookie QB and RB on their first NFL road trip.  While Paul Brown Stadium is no M&T Bank Stadium, it’s sure to be a particularly unfriendly venue for a visiting QB with a career passer rating of 5.1.  Additionally, the Bengals offense will likely have much greater success on the ground and in the air against Cleveland’s defense.

Bengals win 27 – 17.

NY Jets at Pittsburgh (Sun, 4:25pm EDT, CBS)

What Vegas says: Steelers by 6.

What I think: This is a tough one.  While I think the Steelers will pull it out, I’m not convinced that they’ll cover the spread.  I don’t think the Jets’ offense will provide a Manning-like threat, but the Steelers offense should prepare for a battle royale with a very tough New York defense.  Therefore this one will likely come down to precision execution and minimizing penalties.  Tucked in to the confines of Three Rivers these stats likely go Pittsburgh’s way.

Steelers win 27 – 24.

Baltimore at Philadelphia (Sun, 1:00pm EDT, CBS)

What Vegas says: Philly by 2 and ½.

What I think: This will be a much tougher contest than last week, but I like the Ravens’ chances.  Assuming the offense doesn’t have a significant let down (a la Tennessee and Jacksonville last year) the Ravens should be able to put up enough points to walk away with the “W”.  The chances of a let-down, however, are probably less than last year based on the sheer number of weapons the Ravens have on offense.  Flacco, Rice, Boldin, Smith, Jones, Pitta, Dickson, Leach, and Pierce can’t all have a bad day at the same time, can they?

Even though the Bengals have put together a somewhat respectable offense, Philadelphia will pose a significantly greater challenge.  Like last week, my greatest fear is defending the Eagles’ rushing attack.  The Ravens not only have to worry about McCoy, who was able to put up 110-yards last week, but also Vick’s own athleticism.  On the bright side, if the Ravens can provide a modicum of pressure, Vick has proven that he can toss up a few ducks the Ravens can hopefully take advantage of.

Ravens win 31 – 27.

Upset of the week

It’s not a huge upset prediction, but the favored Vikings will go down in Indianapolis this weekend.

Prediction Record:

– AFC North games: 3-0

– Upset of the week: 1-0