Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
This line is at 3 in favor of the hometown Cincinnati Bengals, which suggests these two teams are more or less even, but I have the Bengals with 3 more wins than the Ravens in my season preview. The Ravens finished with the better record last season, finishing 8-8, while the Bengals finished 6-9-1, but the Bengals had the advantage in first down rate differential, finishing 12th (1.03%), while the Ravens finished 25th (-1.37%). The Bengals’ record was largely the result of going 1-5-1 in games decided by a touchdown. They finished the season with one more offensive touchdown than they allowed, while the Ravens finished -8 in that category.
The Bengals lost their top two offensive linemen in free agency, with left Andrew Whitworth signing with the Rams and right guard Kevin Zeitler signing with the Browns, which obviously hurts, but they have both AJ Green and Tyler Eifert back healthy at the same time, which was a rarity last season. Add in their top-2 draft picks, wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and the Bengals have considerably more offensive talent around Dalton than they did last season. They have some issues, but could easily compete for their 6th trip to the playoffs in 7 seasons in a weak AFC.
The Ravens, on the other hand, lost 3 starters on the offensive line this off-season, including right tackle Ricky Wagner, who was one of the best in the game at his position. They also are without 2 of 3 their top-3 receivers from last season and lost their most promising running back, Kenneth Dixon, for the season with injury. Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead were added in free agency, but both are veterans coming off serious injuries and injuries have already thinned their depth on both sides of the ball significantly, with 11 players already on injured reserve.
Their offense finished last season 27th in first down rate and figures to be one of the worst in the league again in 2017, while their defense is unlikely to be as good as we are used to from them. Their secondary is strong, with Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr coming in as free agents and Marlon Humphrey being added in the draft, but they lost their best cornerback from 2016, Tavon Young, to injury and have very little experience in the front 7, after losing 3 starters upfront this off-season. This looks like a down year for the Ravens.
Despite that, I am not jumping on Cincinnati -3 for a couple reasons. For one, Cincinnati is missing a few starters on defense to start the season, with top linebacker Vontaze Burfict suspended for 3 weeks, cornerback Adam Jones suspended for 1 week, and safety Shawn Williams nursing an arm injury. On top of that, the Bengals have to turn around and play another game in 4 days when they host the Texans on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 58-84 ATS before Thursday Night games since 2008, including 2-4 ATS in week 1. The Bengals may have split their focus a little bit this week with two games coming up in 5 days, which could hurt them in this game. They’re a risky pick this week, even if they still do have a slight edge in talent.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 Baltimore Ravens 16
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -3