Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) -1.5, 38.5 O/U at Baltimore Ravens (0-0) +1.5, 38.5 O/U, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md., 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
by Badger of Predictem.com
Injuries during the preseason has turned what the NFL hoped would be an excellent AFC North week one opener between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens into a less glamorous battle of attrition.
The Ravens were hoping to open up John Harbaughs NFL head coaching debut with a bang at home in M&T Bank Stadium, but injuries at the most important position on the field, quarterback, have rocked the Ravens camp the past few weeks.
Not that the Ravens were especially talented at the position to begin with, but their projected No. 1 and No. 2 QBs, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith, are both out of commission making first-round draft choice Joe Flacco the signal caller by default. Boller has a torn throwing shoulder, while Smith has an infected tonsil in his throat that is sapping him of his strength, requiring the Ravens to throw the rookie Flacco into the fire right away ready or not.
Cincinnati also was knocked around pretty good in the preseason. Quarterback Carson Palmer was battered and bloodied with a broken nose one week, and once Chad Johnson (oops, Chad Ocho Cinco) finally decided to play he dislocated his shoulder falling to the ground after trying to make a catch on a high pass. Fellow receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh also sat out most of the preseason due to injury as well.
Because of all of the injuries and the questions that result from them, oddsmakers originally opened the game as a pick-em, but early money on the Bengals has made them slim 1.5-point favorites at most sportsbooks. The over/under total started at 41, but since most of the injuries deal with players on offense, the total has dropped to 38.5 at most houses. The moneyline lists the Bengals as -122 favorites, with Baltimore as +112 underdogs.
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It could be a long year in Baltimore on offense. The Ravens ended last season 28th in yards per play (4.64) and 29th in passing yards per play (5.45), and that was with veteran Steve McNair calling the shots (most of the time). Putting the rookie Flacco in charge of the troops doesnt install a whole lot of confidence for improvement either.
Running back Willis McGahee (1,207 yds., 7 TD) hurt his knee and is listed as questionable for Sunday, and if he cant go it will likely be an all-rookie backfield with Ray Rice standing behind Flacco. Now that stud left tackle Jonathan Ogden has retired, who is going to protect the quarterbacks blindside and be the go-to spot to run the ball in short yardage situations? So many questions, so little answers.
Cincinnati has the potential to be dangerous on offense, if healthy. Palmer should be stronger now that he is one more year removed from his major knee reconstruction, and should be able to improve upon last years numbers (4,131 yds., 26 TD, 20 INT). Chris Perry will be the feature back for the Bengals, and Ocho Cinco (8 TD) and Houshmandzadeh (12 TD) are both 1,000-yard receivers for Palmer the play pitch-n-catch with - if the can stay on the field.
The Ravens defense is still a formidable unit, but age is starting to catch up to them as well. Linebacker Ray Lewis still leads a front seven that is tough to run on (2.84 yards per rush - 1st in NFL), but the secondary gave up too many big plays last season (7.26 yards per pass - 30th) and that was the main reason the slipped to 23rd in the league in points allowed last season (24.0).
Cincinnatis defense was just plain bad last season. They were last in the NFL in sacks, 27th in total yards allowed (348.8) and 24th in points allowed (24.1), which forced the offense to try and outscore teams every week. They drafted linebacker Keith Rivers (USC) to try and turn the unit around, but the Bengals need to create more turnovers and give up fewer big plays if they are going to turn tings around in 2008.
The Bengals swept the season series last year, covering the number in both games. The sweep ran their straight up record versus the Bengals to 7-3 in their last 10 head-to-head meetings as well as making it 7-3 ATS in their last 10. The over is 6-4 in their last 10 games as well.
Most of the other betting trends favor the Bengals as well. Cincinnati is 8-1 ATS in their last nine games in September, while Baltimore was just 3-13 ATS overall in 07, but all three of those covers came at home (3-5 ATS at home in 07). The Ravens divisional ATS record was an abysmal 1-5 last year and their 2-10 ATS record versus AFC teams is also pretty bad.
Badgers Pick: This game just screams “trap game” to me. Sure you got a rookie quarterback. Sure there are tons of injury questions on both sides. So why did the game start as a pick? And why has it only moved a point and a half toward the obviously stronger Bengals? Im staying away from this game all together, but if you must wager, take the safe route and take the under of 38.5 and hope the rookie struggles to make plays.