Both of these teams will contend for the division crown and push for playoff spots.
The Bengals had an excellent season last year, but still couldn't beat Baltimore. They want to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, and that this year's team is even a bit better.
Baltimore is one of the AFC's best squads, and carry tremendous expectations into this season. Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in last year's AFC Championship game will carry a bitter taste into the 2012 season.
Football is finally here. Let's preview what should be a tightly-contested Week 1 matchup:
When: Monday, September 10 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Listen: 98 ROCK and WBAL-1090 AM (Baltimore), ESPN 1530 and 102.7-FM (Cincinnati)
Stream: ESPN3 (device restrictions apply)
Spread: Baltimore (-6), according to Bovada
Ravens Injuries (via ESPN)
TE Dennis Pitta, Hand, Questionable
TE Ed Dickson, Shoulder, Questionable
RB Damien Berry, Neck/Shoulder, Injured Reserve
Bengals Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Bernard Scott, Hand, Out
DE Robert Geathers, Knee, Probable
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Foot, Probable
DB Dre Kirkpatrick, Knee, Questionable
QB Andy Dalton, Shoulder, Probable
DE Carlos Dunlap, Knee, Questionable
What's at Stake
Last season the Bengals won nine games behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, but still dropped both contests to AFC North division rival Baltimore.
This year, they will try to avoid that same fate. Dalton is a year older, and the Bengals carry heavier expectations.
Baltimore will duke it out with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the division once again this season. This Week 1 contest will set the tone for the rest of the Ravens' 2012 slate.
Every franchise wants to start the new campaign off on the right foot. Monday night's contest will give each of these squads a chance to do just that.
Every fantasy owner will have their eyes on Baltimore running back Ray Rice in this one. Other names to keep an eye on for Baltimore are Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, though they hold much less value.
Cincinnati players who come to mind are Dalton, A.J. Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Both defenses are a possible start this week as well.
Ravens Player to Watch: Torrey Smith, WR
Smith is one of the best vertical threats in the game, and he gives the Ravens offense an element that it lacks otherwise.
He used his outstanding speed to grab 50 balls and seven touchdowns as a rookie last season. He averaged nearly 17 yards per catch, establishing himself as a preeminent deep threat.
The Bengals must keep Smith in front of them, but that's easier said than done. Baltimore will lean on Rice for the most part, but Flacco will look Smith's direction just enough to keep the defense honest.
If Smith develops his all-around abilities, he could take another step forward this season.
Bengals Player to Watch: Andy Dalton, QB
The term "sophomore slump" looms in front of any quarterback as they enter their second NFL season, and Dalton will face that same hurdle.
The Bengals signal-caller threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns as a rookie last season. He did throw 13 interceptions, but the quality of his play was excellent overall.
If the Bengals want to take the next step this season, Dalton must be on point. His cerebral style must pace Cincy's attack and ensure their ability to stay with a team like Baltimore.
What They're Saying
The Bengals haven't won in Baltimore in their last three games, but that's not the only streak they are trying to break this season.
Cincinnati hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1981 and '82. The Bengals' Week 1 matchup on Monday night will set the tone for the rest of the season.
Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth had this to say in an NFL.com report:
"That's definitely the next challenge,and what does that take? It takes being a consistent team every week and playing our style no matter who we play. That's what it's going to take for us to take the next step."
Key Matchup: Ray Rice vs. Bengals Front Seven
Rice ran for 295 yards against the Bengals last season, and the Ravens won both matchups. If that trend is going to change, the Bengals must strengthen their defense up front.
The Bengals were 10th in the NFL against the run last season. Their defense, as a whole, was one of the league's biggest surprises, but they weren't perfect.
We know what to expect from Rice. He's arguably the best running back in the league and he's tough to stop no matter how good you think you are in the trenches.
The Bengals will lose if Rice rips them for 100-plus on Monday night.
Home-field advantage puts this game in the Ravens' favor, but Rice really determines things. As good as the Bengals were defensively last season, they had no answer for him.
There's no reason to believe that that has changed, and I'll take the Ravens by a hair.
Score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 20
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