Top 4 Things You Should Know About... Bengals/Ravens
14 down, 2 to go. After yesterday's madness and football being played since last Wednesday, it's hard to believe that there are teams that haven't yet taken the field. But Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, and the rest of the Ravens and Bengals are still chomping at the bit, ready to start their season. This is a battle between two teams numberFire thinks have a good shot at the playoffs this year: the Ravens were #4 in our preseason power rankings with a 60% chance of making the playoffs while the Bengals sat at #15 in the power rankings (sixth-best in the AFC) and have 34% playoff odds. Those battles are settled on the field, though, and unlike the completely uneven fight between an actual bengal tiger and a raven, this one figures to be a good game. numberFire is looking at four main things to watch for when you're in front of the TV tonight.
Winter is Coming, There is War in the North
Last season, only two teams made it through their division slate undefeated: the Packers and the Ravens. Considering the Packers' season, their perfect division record was somewhat expected, but the Ravens rolling through the AFC North came out of Camden Yards' left field. The last time the Ravens had won even five division games in a season was 2006, and the last team to go perfect in the AFC North was Cincinnati in 2009. However, out of all the teams in the division last year, these Bengals played the Ravens the closest. Unlike the 35-7 drubbing the Ravens placed on the Steelers in week 1 and the 24-10 crushing they placed on the Browns in week 13, both of the Ravens' wins over the Bengals were single-digit affairs. That's not out of the ordinary between these two teams; the last six games between them ended (in reverse chronological order) Ravens by eight, Ravens by seven, Ravens by six, Bengals by five, Bengals by ten, Bengals by three. The Ravens covered the current 6.5-point line in each of last year's games between these two teams, but a blowout victory is historically unlikely.
Sprinting from the Gate
The Ravens have gotten exceptionally good at getting a quick jump out of the gate in the past four years; Baltimore has not lost an opening week game since 2007 against these Bengals. But the way they have gotten the victory has changed back and forth throughout the years. In odd numbered years, the normally defensive-minded Baltimore has found a way to light up the scoreboard. In 2009, the Ravens defeated the admittedly-inept Kansas City Chiefs 38-24 in a year where the Chiefs would finish 4-12. That game, however, would be one of the high points for the Baltimore offense, as they would only score more than those 38 points once over the rest of the season. In 2011, Baltimore played a better Pittsburgh team, but similarly dismantled them to a tune of 35-7. But much like 2009, they would only score more than those 35 points once over the entire rest of the season, against the Rams two weeks later. In the Ravens' two other victories, though, defense saved the day. They won 10-9 against the Jets in 2010 and beat the Bengals 17-10 in 2008. In case you haven't looked at your calendar or stocked up for the Mayan apocolypse yet, this is 2012: an even-numbered year. If you're one for superstition and trends, that could mean a Ravens victory but a low scoring game. This over/under on this affair is currently at 41.5; two of the Ravens opening week victories shattered that mark while the other two fell way short.
A QB... Battle? Minor skirmish? Drunken Bar Fight?
Flacco and Dalton may be two QBs that people expect to see big improvements from this season, but the numberFire fantasy projections just don't see it occurring in week 1. Entering the weekend, numberFire had Flacco tied with Matt Schaub as the 17th best fantasy QB of the weekend at 12.97 fantasy points. If Flacco were to score 13 in this game, it would tie him with Mr. Harvard for an average 16th on the week 1 leaderboard and mark the first time a University of Delaware grad not named Biden has done as well as a Harvard grad in anything ever. That output would also be consistent what he did against the Bengals last season; he had 16 fantasy points in week 11 but only nine fantasy points in week 17. Dalton, meanwhile, is projected to do even worse as numberFire's #26 QB this weekend. That puts him behind such vaunted names as Current 1-0 QB Christian Ponder and Current Not 1-0 QB Russell Wilson on the projections list. Ouch. Dalton did have 373 yards in the first game against the Ravens last year, but he also had only one TD and threw three picks in that affair. In his second game against the Ravens, he only put up single-digit fantasy points, tying Flacco on the day with nine.
Torrey: Torrid or Terrible?
You want the ultimate boom or bust candidate this Monday night? Look no further than Baltimore's Torrey Smith. In week 11 against the Bengals last season, Smith went off for the best game of his career, with six catches for 165 yards and a TD. Smith did not even receive the most targets in that game - that would be Ray Rice with ten - but an 86% catch rate on the game helped him make the most of his opportunities. In week 17, Smith's catch rate was still high at 71%, but he only averaged 6.6 yards per reception to finish with 33 yards and three sad fantasy points on the day. Considering Smith's final catch rate on the season was a much lower 52%, one can assume that he knows how to play these Bengals' corners well. And with rookie CB Dre Kirkpatrick out for the game, Smith will be lining up against that same secondary. Which Smith will we see? numberFire had Smith as the #24 WR in our projections this week with an estimated 8.43 fantasy points this week, right on the edge of that start/not start line. For my money, I believe Smith will finish nowhere near that eight-point mark; he'll either be much higher or much lower. How much can you trust him to break one deep? He had at least one catch over 30 yards in six of his 16 games last season.