The Cincinnati Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens tonight to kickoff the second week of National Football League regular season play. These two AFC North Division rivals completed their 2017 seasons against each other last December, although for the Ravens that game was supposed to be the one in which they clinched a playoff berth.
Didn’t happen that way.
Last New Year’s Eve, with 44 seconds left on the clock and the Bengals facing a fourth and 12 situation from midfield, quarterback Andy Dalton completed a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd that eliminated the Ravens from the postseason and elevated the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs. That play was so much loved among Bills fans that they gave Dalton a hero’s welcome when the Bengals visited Buffalo this preseason.
The play was not as well received in Baltimore, and this season Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is one of the coaches considered most in job jeopardy entering the 2018 campaign. The winning play may also have been important to Marvin Lewis, who held his job as head coach of the Bengals despite back-to-back losing seasons and no wins in seven playoff appearances during his 15 seasons in Cincinnati.
Both the Ravens and Bengals come into this contest off opening day wins. The Ravens blasted the visiting Buffalo Bills last Sunday, 47-3, while the Bengals used a late pick six to douse a final drive in Indianapolis while beating the Colts, 34-23. In head-to-head coaching matchups, this is the 21st meeting between Harbaugh’s Ravens and Lewis’ Bengals with Cincinnati holding an 11 to 9 edge in wins which includes a 4-2 record as a home dog. Lewis has also led his team to wins over the Ravens in seven of their most recent nine meetings.
Right now, the point spread on this game is a pick ‘em, but it is likely the Ravens will kick off as a one point favorite.
Each season, a team or two that missed the playoffs last year emerges as a power. In fact, four teams that had losing marks the prior campaign have won Super Bowls. That list includes the Philadelphia Eagles of last season, the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2001 New England Patriots.
Are the Ravens or Bengals primed for a breakthrough season in 2018?
Both teams have quarterbacks who have had regular season success, with Joe Flacco also leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl win to complete the 2012 season. Even with zero wins in seven playoff appearances, it is worth noting that Lewis has guided the Bengals into the postseason seven times which includes an AFC North Division title three years ago before his back-to-back losing campaigns.
As for tonight, the public is clearly backing the visitors who swept five preseason games and won their opener. The Ravens also have a revenge edge to erase the sting of last year’s season ending loss in Baltimore.
But, if the books were afraid of public money, they would have the line on this game up to the Ravens favored by two or more points. Instead, each time the line moves to one, smart money is coming in behind that to take the point and home team.
If either of these teams is going to surge from missing the playoffs last year to a breakthrough campaign in 2018, they will win tonight … I just don’t have enough edges one way or the other to know if that team exists.