Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: Keys to the game, matchups to watch and prediction

By The Sports Xchange   |   Sept. 7, 2017 at 11:20 PM
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BALTIMORE RAVENS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Paul Brown Stadium. TV: CBS, announcers Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta, Melanie Collins.

SERIES HISTORY: 43rd regular-season meeting. Series tied, 21-21. The teams split their regular-season games last season with the home team earning the win. The Ravens, though, have not won in Cincinnati since 2011.

KEYS TO THE GAME: With quarterback Joe Flacco appearing in a game for the first time since last season, the Ravens want to establish the run to overcome some inevitable rust and also take pressure off him. Baltimore also wants to avoid costly turnovers to give the Bengals a short field. Both Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones are suspended, which will benefit Baltimore.

Defensively, the Ravens plan to showcase their new pass rush and will try to force quarterback Andy Dalton into making mistakes. Cincinnati's offensive line will have trouble handling Baltimore. Promising Bengals rookie receiver John Ross also likely will miss the game with a knee injury.

Cincinnati is looking to revive its once ferocious pass rush this season, led by Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and rookie Jordan Willis.

The Bengals' offensive line has three new starters, and the scrutiny on this group begins in earnest on Sunday to see how well they can protect QB Andy Dalton and create holes for a running game that struggled most of last season. Sunday will be the NFL debut for Bengals running back Joe Mixon, who had a standout preseason.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Bengals DL. Flacco missed all of training camp with a back injury. The Bengals are looking to revive their pass rush with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and rookie Jordan Willis. If Flacco's timing is off with his line and receivers, the pressure could be on.

--Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Ravens CB Jimmy Smith. The pair has a history. Green's 227-yard performance in 2015 was at least partly on Smith's shoulders. Both Smith and Green are starting their seventh seasons in the NFL. Green is motivated after a hamstring injury left him 36 yards short of 1,000 last season.

RAVENS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Linebacker Tyus Bowser. The second-round pick impressed coaches with his pass-rush skills and the ability to drop back in pass coverage. Bowser is also expected to make an impact setting the edge against the run. He had a successful career at the University of Houston, finishing with 22.5 sacks. Bowser's game has already translated into the NFL and he is poised to get opportunities to make plays. The Ravens struggled last year with their pass rush, ranking 24th in the NFL with 31 sacks. Bowser should help improve that number.

BENGALS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Running back Joe Mixon. While the controversy surrounding the Bengals' drafting of Mixon, who was suspended for a season at Oklahoma for punching a woman, has quieted for the moment, his performance in the preseason suggests the microscope is about to be back on the running back's playing ability. Mixon rushed for 78 yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 32 yards. He showed an ability between the tackles with elusive moves in the open field and good hands.

FAST FACTS: Cincinnati has won four straight season openers and beaten Baltimore in five consecutive games at home. ... Ravens QB Joe Flacco traditionally struggles with the Bengals' defense. In his last eight games, he has tossed 12 interceptions and managed only five TD passes. ... Cincinnati will be shorthanded defensively as LB Vontaze Burfict and CB Adam Jones are suspended for the opener. Burfict is starting a three-game ban for a dangerous hit during an exhibition game as a repeat offender, while Jones' one-game suspension stems from an offseason incident in a Cincinnati hotel.

PREDICTION: The trends suggest a Bengals win, and WR A.J. Green usually enjoys big games when facing Baltimore. Who are we to argue, especially when Flacco didn't take a snap in preseason?

OUR PICK: Bengals, 20-13.

--Bucky Dent

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