|Quarterback Andy Dalton looks to lead the Bengals past the defending division champion Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night. (Getty Images)|
Bengals vs. Ravens -- Week 1
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore (turf, outdoors)
When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Ravens by 7
Forecast: No rain forecasted, temperatures expected in the 70s
2011 records: Bengals (9-7), Ravens (12-4)
Past results: Baltimore swept the season series in 2011, both in one-possession games. Two most recent regular-season meetings: Nov. 20, 2011: Ravens 31, Bengals 24; Jan. 1, 2012: Ravens 24, Bengals 16. Series record: Ravens hold 18-14 edge.
What matters: Cincinnati couldn't find a way to beat the upper-echelon NFL teams last season. They finished the year 9-0 against teams that didn't make the playoffs and 0-8 against those that did, including 0-4 against league rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Andy Dalton threw three interceptions to one touchdown in the losses to the Ravens, and turnovers typically decide this series. The Bengals hope another year of seasoning for Dalton, reliability at receiver and signing of RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has never fumbled, will keep turnovers at a minimum.
Who matters: C Jeff Faine was on the street and contemplating retirement two weeks ago. Monday night he'll be responsible for all the Bengals play calls as he lines up across from Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis. The injury to starting center Kyle Cook places Faine, a 10-year veteran cut by Tampa Bay in March, in the middle. Rookie Kevin Zeitler will line up to his right and Clint Boling makes his fourth career start on the left. Finding a way to contain the Ravens' disruption up the middle will be the key to offensive production.
Key matchups: RB Ray Rice vs. LB Rey Maualuga. Last year, Rice broke off two runs of better than 50 yards in the regular season finale at Paul Brown Stadium. Maualuga found himself out of position and victimized as Rice sprinted to the end zone. Rice also broke a 59-yard run in the first meeting. Cincinnati stuffed the Ravens back on most plays, holding him to an average of 2.8 yards per carry on his other 41 runs last year. Avoiding the gash of those three will be the necessary alteration.
Injuries of note: DE Carlos Dunlap has developed into one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the game when he's healthy. Unfortunately for the Bengals, he'll likely miss the opener with a knee sprain suffered in the first preseason game. Without Dunlap, Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson will man the edge. They're more consistent in run defense but lack the rush skills to slow the no-huddle pass scheme Baltimore implemented.
Inside stuff: Safety Taylor Mays makes his first start at safety for the Bengals, and he impressed defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer with the physicality he showed in the preseason. He hits like a linebacker, but the question is if he'll cover like one as well. Containing the tight end and cutting off deep threat Torrey Smith could be a liability Flacco will look to expose.
Connections: OL Bobbie Williams started at guard for Cincinnati the last seven seasons but will line up as the starter against his old teammates Monday ... Bengals backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski might not see the field, but he will see his brother Gino, who is a G/C for the Ravens.
Stat you should know: The Bengals finished last season ranked 26th in TD percentage in the red zone. They added Green-Ellis, who owns 23 rushing touchdowns over the past two years. Alternatively, the Ravens were the league's best team in overall red-zone defense in 2011. When losing a game by one possession, as they did both times against Baltimore last year, kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns could be the difference-maker.
Looking ahead: This can only be considered an undesirable opener, considering Baltimore has won 18 of 19 at home and all four openers under John Harbaugh. The luck shifts as the Bengals should be favored in each of the next five games (Cleveland, Washington, Miami, Jacksonville, Cleveland). With a surprise win Monday, opening 6-0 wouldn't be a wild stretch of the imagination.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Bengals 13
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCIN.