Week Two of the NFL season kicks of with an AFC North clash on Thursday night. The Ravens face the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium as both teams look to move to 2-0. What should you watch for?
Who replaces Kenneth Dixon?
Dixon was placed on injured reserve following his injury in the 47-3 demolition of the Buffalo Bills. The Ravens’ leading rusher (44 yards and a score) will need replacing and that role will likely fall to Alex Collins. Collins looked to have a promising future after rushing for 973 yards in 2017. However, he only touched the ball 7 times in Week One. I’d expect 15-20 carries for him against Cincinnati as the Ravens look to pound the ball.
Will Flacco repeat his strong passing performance?
Against the hapless Bills, Joe Flacco looked a different player compared to a year ago. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 236 yards. More impressive were his three touchdowns, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 121.7. Against the Bengals he will face a tougher task. Second year corner William Jackson III is coming off an exceptional rookie season during which he allowed a 34.9 percent catch rate (Pro Football Focus). The Bengals also have Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. Their battle with new Ravens’ receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead will be exciting to watch. All three grabbed a touchdown in their assault of the Bills. Also in the mix here is safety Jessie Bates who looked exceptional in his first NFL game.
Can the Ravens Contain Mixon?
Bengals running back Joe Mixon was a destructive force in the 34-23 win over the Colts. Smoking Joe scampered for 95 yards and a score on 17 touches and continued is effectiveness out of the backfield, adding 54 yards on 5 catches. As is common in divisional games the Ravens always seem to raise their games against the Bengals. I still expect Mixon to add 100 all purpose yards but the Ravens will be a lot better at limiting the big plays. Mixon seems to becoming the Bengals focal point early on in year 2.
Who wins the battle of the trenches?
This may be the key to this game. The Ravens recorded a whopping six sacks against Buffalo. Surprisingly, second year corner Tavon Young was responsible for two. Don “Wink” Martindale did a fantastic job of disguising who was blitzing in his first game in charge of the defence. Against the Colts Cincinnati’s offensive line showed significant improvement from 2017. If Andy Dalton is given time he can get the ball to his playmakers. The Bengals will be hoping to get star receiver AJ Green involved early whilst also feeding John Ross and healthy again Tyler Eifert. The Bengals have the weapons to score if they can keep Dalton upright!
The Bengals can’t afford to get off to a slow start in this one. Doing so could see a much improved Baltimore team bring more blitzes as Cincinnati play catch up. Expect a close game.
Prediction – Ravens 27, Bengals 20