Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5, 44.5 o/u)
The Baltimore Ravens (0-2, 0-0 home) were a popular preseason pick to win the hyper-competitive AFC North. (The underlying stats said that the 2014 edition ought to have earned the division title, posting a much better point differential than Pittsburgh.) But the 2015 team is struggling out of the gate. The offense couldn’t muster anything in a Week 1 loss to Denver (19-13); and the defense was shredded in a Week 2 upset at the hands of Oakland (37-33).
The Ravens will need to figure out how to put a full 60 minutes together on both sides of the ball this weekend, or they’ll find themselves three games back of the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0, 1-0 road) come Monday. Baltimore and Cincinnati will meet at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern).
The Ravens were able to put up a lot of points against Oakland, but there are still ample reasons to be concerned about the offense. After parting ways with Torrey Smith in the offseason, and losing rookie Breshad Perriman and tight end Dennis Pitta to injury, the passing game is wanting for weapons. The aging Steve Smith and terrifically named Crockett Gillmore have played well, but aren’t capable of carrying the aerial attack all season.
On the ground, feature back Justin Forsett has just 111 yards through two games and the Ravens, as a team, are averaging a little of 90. The Baltimore brass had been banking on the running game – which was top-ten in the league last year at 126.2 YPG (4.5 YPC) – to carry a heavier load, knowing that they would be thin at receiver.
The defense was excellent against Denver, but lost LB Terrell Suggs for the year. His absence was notable against Oakland as Baltimore failed to generate consistent pressure. With ample time to operate in the pocket, Raider QB Derek Carr was able to shred the Ravens’ secondary.
Corners Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb could be in for another long day against Cincinnati. The Bengals o-line has yet to surrender a sack this year, allowing QB Andy Dalton to complete 68.3-percent of his passes for five TDs. The “Red Rifle” has also yet to throw an interception.
The one concern for the Bengal team coming into the game is the play of Jeremy Hill. The running back fumbled twice in Week 2 and was benched in favor of Giovani Bernard. Luckily for the team, there wasn’t any drop off; Bernard ran for 123 yards on 20 carries in a 24-19 win over the Chargers.
The rush defense was suspect at times, giving up multiple 15-plus-yard runs to Melvin Gordon. But, on the whole, the Cincy D has been solid, sitting sixth in the league, giving up 300 yards per game while generating five turnovers and six sacks. After laboring through injuries the last couple seasons, defensive tackle Geno Atkins looks to be back to his 2012 form with two sacks and one forced fumble.
Atkins is likely to matchup with Baltimore’s four-time Pro-Bowl guard Marshal Yanda in a key game-within-the-game.
The Bengals swept the season series last year, including a 27-24 win in Baltimore. The Ravens will be desperate, but Cincy is the deeper team and has played more complete football this year. The Bengals and the points look like better value.
Pick: Cincinnati (+2.5).
(Photo credit: emeybee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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