Two games for Monday night. Had a pretty average day yesterday with the picks. One of the few people to nail the 49ers over the Packers, but a lot of surprises and upsets. I'll probably do a recap with my thoughts on Wednesday. But for now though, time to pick the Monday Night games.
Bengals @ Ravens
Quite an interesting battle to start off with in the early game. The Bengals showed noticable improvement last season with Andy Dalton at quarterback and A.J. Green joining their receiving corps. They've since lost some important role players like Andre Caldwell but gained a bit of speed in the shape of Brandon Tate. The defense looks impressive, with some new additions supplementing an already quite strong group.
The Ravens have also been working hard. Ray Rice finds himself with a pair of rookies for support at running back and Jacoby Jones is a nice addition to the receivers. Overall though not a huge amount of turnover for the Ravens. The loss of Cory Redding is a blow to a defensive line that might undergo something of a shake up this year. Old veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed remain, stalwartly leading that defense.
And that's what worries me. Lewis is a brilliant linebacker. Mentally he's on a par with most quarterbacks when it comes to reading the field and reacting. But we saw last year that he suffered somewhat in the physical department. He wasn't as fast as he used to be and he didn't hit as hard in the running game. Haloti Ngata remains to anchor the defensive line and I think now he is really the most important and capable player on the Ravens defense.
I'm torn on this one. I like what the Ravens have done with their passing game, something they've invested in over recent seasons. But it seems they've done it at the expense of their running game. The Bengals have made strides in the same department, but have also retained a strong ground game behind that to support it.
And for the first time in years I look at the Bengals defense alongside the Ravens defense and I think the Bengals might actually be better. Up front they have some solid pass rushers, some strong run defenders and a good linebacking corps to support them. Also, the addition of Terrence Newman at corner from the Cowboys is a great pickup to compliment Leon Hall.
I'm by no means sure about this one. Like the 49ers/Packers game I think the two teams are - at least on paper - quite evenly matched. And I'm going to take a bit of a punt like I did with the 49ers and take Cincinnati over Baltimore. Bengals win.
Chargers @ Raiders
There's a lot of optimisim in the Bay area surrounding the Raiders. Conversely I don't think Chargers fans have been optimistic about anything for years now. I think in this game both fans might need to swap expectations.
The Raiders still have some solid offensive playmakers and they have a pretty good D-line. It's the rest of the team that's the problem. I think the O-line is no better, and may indeed have got worse. I don't think Carson Palmer is the saviour many expect. And the linebacking and secondary groups are really suspect in a lot of places.
The Chargers are the Chargers. A team that on paper looks like a playoff contender.... which then somehow throws it all away. And they really do look good. Other than the inexplicable decision to let fullbacks Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert walk off into free agency, despite them being two of the better players on the Chargers offense last season, the offense as a whole looks pretty healthy. Robert Meachem is a nice addition opposite Vincent Jackson.
On the defense, 2nd year talent Corey Liuget and rookie Kendall Reyes could add a lot to that defensive front. Rookie linebacker Melvin Ingram is highly rated and they've kept the majority of what was a good linebacker unit last year. The secondary is ok, but should be enough to handle most of the AFC West, among others.
On balance I feel more comfortable picking the Chargers than I do picking the Raiders. I didn't have the chance to do a preview of the Chargers before the seaon, but the more I look at them the more I think that if their rookie picks pay off, this could be a pretty strong team. Maybe even a playoff contender. And for that reason I'm taking San Diego. Chargers win.