The Cincinnati Bengals had a franchise-best string of five straight playoff appearances come to an end last season and are itching to get back to the top of the NFC North. The Baltimore Ravens, who visit the Bengals on Sunday in the season opener, are hoping to end a two-year playoff drought and have not won in Cincinnati since 2011.
The Ravens offense is just getting up to speed with quarterback Joe Flacco, who returned to practice on Sunday after missing the entire preseason and all of training camp recovering from a back injury. “He’s really sharp. He’s smart,” Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told reporters of Flacco. “He’s got all of those great qualities. We will have a discussion (Friday) on the game plan and that sort of thing. I want to make sure he’s really comfortable with everything that’s a possible call.” The Ravens can always fall back on their defense, which held opponents to an average of eight points in four preseason games and drew the attention of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. “They’ve been playing well. They’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Dalton told reporters of the Baltimore defense. “When their first unit was in, they played really well this preseason. We’ve got to prepare for what they’re doing. It’s always a tough game when we play them. It always feels like it’s coming down to the end. Both teams are preparing for the season the right way, and for us, we’re going to do what we can to win this one.”
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Bengals -3. O/U: 42.5
ABOUT THE RAVENS (2016: 8-8): Baltimore’s struggles last season came down to injuries, especially along the offensive line. The Ravens have three new starters on the line heading into Week 1, anchored by Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, and are confident that the new group can protect Flacco. “Our coaches are helping us, making sure we take advantage of every single minute we meet and stay extra,” said right tackle Austin Howard, who signed in the offseason after being released by the Oakland Raiders. “With the reps we take at practice, they’re going to make sure we’re all on the same page. I feel good, I know our offensive line feels good, and we’re ready to go.”
ABOUT THE BENGALS (2016: 6-9-1): Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict will miss the first three games of the season after being suspended by the league for three games for a dangerous hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in the preseason, but that didn’t stop the team from locking him up with a three-year contract extension. “Vontaze is still one of the young, emerging talents within the league,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. “We have worked hard at training, developing and retaining talented players. It’s pleasing that Vontaze has made this commitment to be a part of the organization going forward. It was important to reach an extension before the start of the season and we look forward to having Vontaze back with the team in a few weeks.” Vincent Rey will slide into Burfict’s starting spot for the next three weeks.
1. Bengals CB Adam Jones is serving a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
2. Baltimore CB Jaylen Hill (thigh) has not been practicing this week and is questionable.
3. Cincinnati took six of the last seven meetings.
PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Ravens 17