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NFL Week 1 Bengals vs Ravens: 6 players to watch in the season opener

Here are six players who you should keep your eye on in the Bengals’ regular season opener.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Finally we have football that matters. We are no longer rooting for everyone to just stay healthy! Although that would still be nice. It is probably the most exciting time of the year for every football team. Everyone still has hopes that this is their year (except for the Jets and Bills that is).

The Bengals are starting out the season in position to really make a statement. They will be facing the Ravens, who for some reason always seem to be preferred over the Bengals by national media outlets. It is strange considering the Bengals have essentially owned them the past few years. Since 2012 the Bengals are 6-2 against the Ravens.

Let’s see which Bengals have to perform well in order for Cincinnati’s winning trend against Baltimore to continue.

Vincent Rey

Unfortunately, the Bengals will be without Vontaze Burfict as he serves his three-game suspension to start the year. That means Rey will be taking his place. Considering his experience in the system, he may also be the linebacker calling out the plays and adjustments in Burfict’s absence.

It is pretty obvious that Rey won’t be able to fill Burfict’s shoes, but he will have to play pretty well for the Bengals’ defense to slow down the Ravens. Fortunately it seems the starting tight end for the Ravens is Benjamin Watson, so Rey may not be too outflanked as far as athleticism. The Bengals should try and limit the amount of times he is matched up on Danny Woodhead, because that could be an issue.

Darqueze Dennard

Keeping the trend of substitutes who need to perform while a suspended player is out, Dennard needs to hold down the perimeter while Adam Jones is serving his one-game suspension.

Dennard is on the depth chart as the starting cornerback this week and will be on the opposite side of Dre Kirkpatrick. Expect to see him tested quite a bit by Joe Flacco. Dennard will see plenty of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, and he will probably have to defend a few deep balls. This is really a sink or swim moment in Dennard’s career as the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option on his contract, and a good game here could mean more playing time in the future. A bad game could mean the Bengals could part ways with them after this season. Expect William Jackson III to also see playing time in Week 1.

Carlos Dunlap

Dunlap is going to be tasked with taking advantage of a weak spot along the Ravens depleted offensive line. Austin Howard, who the Raiders cut this offseason, will have to slow down one of the best pass rushers in the league.

If Dunlap can get to Flacco early it could cause the Ravens to keep a tight end or running back in to help Howard slow down Dunlap. That could help out Rey quite a bit in coverage. The Ravens added attention to Dunlap could create opportunities for other pass rushers as well if the Ravens slide protection that direction.

Pretty simple concept. The more pressure Dunlap is able to put on Flacco, the easier he makes it for the entire defense to do their jobs.

Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon

I’m calling the Bengals’ depth chart bluff. I doubt Jeremy Hill ends up with the most touches in this game. If the Bengals want to expose a weakness on this talented Ravens’ defense it starts by spreading it out. That gameplan favors Bernard and Mixon’s skill set to run and catch out of the shotgun.

I imagine Bernard will finish the game with the most touches, and he will have to make some plays in the open field. If the Bengals can get him matched up on Kamalei Correa in the passing game that would be a win for the offense.

Mixon has shown an incredible ability to run out of the shotgun formation dating back to his time in the NCAA. Even if he just has a few nice runs it will help the threat of play action, and that could keep the Ravens’ pass rushers from pinning their ears back against this Bengals’ offensive line. They may also have to pick up some pass protection duties if the Bengals’ offensive line struggles as well.

These two need to be able to make some plays to take some pressure off the passing game, which brings us to the last player to watch...

Andy Dalton

It is true the Bengals’ offensive line has seen better days, but Dalton will still have to find a way to move the ball around against the Ravens. Baltimore added Tony Jefferson this offseason to create a pretty formidable duo with Eric Weddle at safety. They also added Brandon Carr to the defense who will be playing opposite Jimmy Smith at cornerback while their rookie corner, Marlon Humphrey, will likely field most of the nickel corner duties. Not to mention, Dalton will have Terrell Suggs breathing down his neck as Cedric Ogbuehi attempts to protect the seventh-year signal caller.

There is a ton of pressure on Dalton to check the offensive line into the right protection, and also make sure the offense is checked into the right play. He will also have to feel if pressure is coming to get the ball out to the hot route quickly.

Luckily for Dalton he has A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert back in the line up to help take the pressure off a little bit. He also has a new found connection with Tyler Boyd after being forced to find new targets when Green went down last season.

Dalton will have to find a way to ignore the pressure and dissect Baltimore’s defense if Cincinnati has any hope of winning on Sunday.