September 10th, 2012, will be the first installment of Monday Night Football this season.
The first of two games that night features the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Both teams from the AFC North made the playoffs last season when Baltimore won the division and Cincinnati made it as a wild card team.
It should be a hard fought game from start to finish and the outcome can play an important factor in how this tough division shapes out. Here are my three predictions:
1. JOE FLACCO WILL THROW FOR OVER 300 YARDS AND THREE TOUCHDOWNS
Some may laugh and say there is no way Flacco will put up these numbers. I have complete faith in Joe Flacco and believe this will be the season he takes a huge step forward and joins the group of ELITE quarterbacks.
Flacco undoubtedly outplayed Tom Brady in last year's AFC Championship as the Ravens were a dropped touchdown away from a trip to the Super Bowl.
However, the past is the past and Flacco and the Ravens are focused on another trip deep into the playoffs and if that is possible, Flacco must have a great year.
He is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to the playoffs every year for the first four seasons in the league. The match-up vs. the Bengals' secondary will be a tough one to start the season.
Cincinnati has a great starting duo of cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Nate Clements, and a subpar safety unit of Taylor Mays, Reggie Nelson, and rookie backup George Iloka.
The free agent signing of former Pro Bowler and longtime Dallas Cowboy, Terence Newman, should be an instant upgrade to the secondary as a whole. He has great experience and should be able to contribute right away if he can stay away from injuries.
The Bengals also drafted highly-rated cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick out of Alabama. However, he is still recovering from a fractured knee and will not make his NFL debut in this game.
Nevertheless, I think Flacco will have a great night playing on his home field and build on a terrific preseason where Baltimore showed some no-huddle offense.
Ray Rice should get the touches he deserves, but the Ravens will use a lot of play actions to get speedy recievers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones down the field for big plays. If they are covered, Flacco has Anquan Boldin and the productive tight end duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta to throw to over the middle. Ray Rice is a great pass catching running back as well and should contribute to the team and Flacco's stats.
2. ED REED WILL INTERCEPT ONE BALL AND BREAK UP TWO OTHERS
There was a lot of talk during the offseason of legendary safety Ed Reed reitiring from the NFL. Yet, to the dismay of many opposing quarterbacks, he is back and healthy.
His production and health is key to another playoff run for the Ravens. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals' offense must know where Reed is on the field at all times.
I predict Reed will be back to his ball-hawking self and fly around the field looking to make big plays. As the pass rush of the Ravens wear down the mediocre offensive line of the Bengals, I think Reed will be able to pick a pass off in the second half.
Cincinnati All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green will be doubled most of the game but can still be able to win jump-balls with Reed and the rest of the Ravens' secondary.
Going to be a great game and I cannot wait to see how the Ravens' defense matches up with the improving offense of the Bengals.
3. A.J. GREEN WILL HAVE LESS THAN 65 YARDS RECEIVING AND ZERO TOUCHDOWNS
In only his second season, A.J. Green is already considered an elite receiver in the NFL. The Bengals are depending on him to have a great game in order to beat last seasons division champ.
Last season Green had to miss the first match-up between the two teams, then was a non-factor in the second match-up while only catching two passes for 26 yards.
I'm sure he has been looking forward to this game ever since the schedule release with the intent to make a big impact. I just don't see that happening. Green will be matched up with either Lardarius Webb who became an instant star after a great season last year, or Cary Williams who is considerably taller than Webb and may match-up with the height of Green better.
Either corner the Ravens decide to go with, they will not be alone. I expect the Ravens' defense to constantly have a safety shadowing Green to at least lighten the possibility of a big play from happening.
The other receivers for the Bengals must be prepared to step up and must have a good game for this offense to have success. Look to Ben Tate, Armon Binns, and rookie Mohamed Sanu to be the other receivers getting the most snaps.
Third-year starting tight end Jermaine Gresham, must have a great game as well for this offense to strive if Green is again a non-factor vs. the Ravens.
At the end of a great opening Monday Night Football game, I think the Ravens will jump out to an early lead and never look back. My final score prediction is 31-20 Baltimore.
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