The Ravens head to Cincinnati this week to open up the season with an AFC North matchup with the Bengals. The Ravens are looking to bounce back from a rough 8-8 season a year ago and reclaim a playoff spot this year. Baltimore took some hits this offseason losing standout wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. to retirement and tight end Dennis Pitta to injuries, but the Ravens did add some new offensive weapons in running back Danny Woodhead and wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin.
Offensively the Ravens are extremely happy to have their franchise quarterback, Joe Flacco, healthy for this week 1 matchup as he missed a majority of the preseason due to a back injury. This season, look for Flacco to revert back to his deep throws with the addition of Maclin, who I expect to be Flacco’s new favorite target downfield. The addition of Woodhead will also allow Flacco some more options in the short yardage passing game and will fill the void left by the release of fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. The run game will be anchored by running back Terrance West, who ran for 774 yards and 5 TD’s last season. West also added 226 receiving yards and 1 touchdown through the air. Look for West to become more of a threat in the air, as well as pick up more yards under a new run blocking scheme this season. With a injured, depleted Bengals secondary, look for Flacco to move the offense downfield through the air, despite being his first live action of the year.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens look to get back to their defensive ways of the past. Leading this charge is 15 year NFL veteran linebacker, Terrell Suggs. Suggs and his front seven, full of young talent like Brandon Williams, CJ Mosley, and Brent Urban, have the ability to make or break this week 1 matchup for the Ravens. Cincinnati’s weak spot is their offensive line and if this defensive unit can step up and get pressure up the middle on quarterback Andy Dalton, the Ravens can control the game on the line of scrimmage.
Where the Ravens could struggle on the defensive side of the ball is their new secondary. The Bengals will test this young secondary with Andy Dalton and a talented receiving corps featuring one of the best in the game, A.J. Green. The Bengals also boast Tight End, Tyler Eifert. Eifert’s 2016 season was cut short due to injury but had 13 touchdowns in the 2015 season. Look for Eifert to be a short yardage threat, especially in the red zone an on third-down situations. The Ravens’ secondary is anchored by veteran safety Eric Weddle, who came to Baltimore last year and looks to be a key leader on defense for this young Baltimore secondary. Cornerback Jimmy Smith will look to lock down the outside, but has been inconsistent in past seasons. Look for this unit to improve over the course of the season but Baltimore hopes they’ll be ready this Sunday to stop a potentially explosive Cincinnati passing unit.
At the end of the day, this is a season opening AFC North matchup. Be ready for a hard-nosed, drag out game from both teams as they look to start their seasons 1-0.