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The Bengals finished the preseason at 2-2 capped by a 27-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. They played without starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who spent the game in street clothes with his mangled nose bandaged; receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who was in uniform but didn’t play; or their more heralded receiver, Chad Johnson, who didn’t even make the two-hour trip on I-74. Running back Rudi Johnson, who was expected to play, never made it onto the field, either and was cut on Saturday. The Bengals much-maligned defense performed admirably against the Colts back-ups.
The Ravens went 1-3 in the preseason with a loss to the Atlanta Falcons 10-9. Rookie Joe Flacco has been named the week 1 starter at quarterback by John Harbaugh. With injury and illness to Kyle Boller and Troy Smith respectively, the team has signed veteran journeyman Todd Bouman to the veteran minimum (after looking at Joey Harrington and Chris Simms earlier in the week) to back up Flacco. It will be interesting to see which of the following injured player(s) suit up to play in the opener: DT Kelly Gregg, S Ed Reed, CB Chris McAlister, CB Samari Rolle, and RB Willis McGahee.
GAME NOTES: Baltimore turned the ball over 12 times in 2 games versus Cincinnati in 2007. The Ravens did not throw a TD pass in either game. Cincinnati has won 6 of the last 7 games in the series. The Bengals have won their last 2 road openers, but were only 2-6 on the road last season.
ITH Selection: Cincinnati 20 Baltimore 17
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns
The Cowboys concluded their preseason with a 2-2 record and a 16-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Expectation levels are high for America’s team, even though preseason injuries to Sam Hurd, Miles Austin, and Isaiah Stanback leave the team lacking quality receiving depth. Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, the Cowboys’ top two receivers, didn’t even play against the Vikings in what amounted to a glorified tryout for both teams. Neither did Tony Romo nor any of the rest of the offensive or defensive starters — except for fullback Deon Anderson.
The Browns are hoping that Derek Anderson can return for the season opener after suffering a concussion in the Giants game, but Brady Quinn was sharp in the early going of the team’s 16-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in the preseason finale. The Browns were a disappointing 0-4 in the preseason and some are questioning whether the Browns will live up to the hype and expectations placed on the team. Romeo Crennel was hoping to avoid any more injuries against the Bears, but the Browns lost wide receiver Syndric Steptoe to a shoulder injury on the opening kickoff and right guard Rex Hadnot went out with a knee injury in the first quarter. Both losses could be significant as Steptoe is handling kickoff and punt return duties while Joshua Cribbs is out, and Hadnot is filling in while Ryan Tucker recovers from hip surgery.
GAME NOTES: Braylon Edwards caught 21 passes for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns versus NFC teams last season. RB Jamal Lewis rushed for more than 100 yards in 4 of his last 6 games in 2007. The Browns have won 7 straight at home. Cowboys TE Jason Witten had 10 games of 6 catches or more last season. QB Tony Romo is 10-2 in regular season road starts. Dallas averaged 32.5 points in its first 13 games last season, but only 12.3 points in its final games (including playoffs).
ITH Selection: Dallas 28 Cleveland 20
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Texans completed a 2-2 preseason dropping the finale to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-6. The Texans are once again an improved team. Whether that is good enough to lift them to their first winning record and first playoff appearance is still unknown.
"When I first got here, the attitude of the team was totally different than it is now," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I think things now mean a lot more to the guys that are here than they did before. We have that goal of getting to the playoffs, and that is my goal."
Starting running back Ahman Green missed much of the preseason with a groin injury, so they may need to turn to Chris Taylor or rookie Steve Slaton if Green can’t go against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh (3-1 preseason) might be a Super Bowl contender if it can answer two questions: 1. Will the offensive line play any better than it did last season? 2. Can the aging but talented defensive line hold up over the course of the season? The second question might not be answered until later in the year, the way it was last season when defensive end Aaron Smith, among their most valuable players, left Dec. 9 for good with a torn biceps. What followed was not pretty as teams, especially the Jacksonville Jaguars, ran all over them. The bigger problem, it would seem, is in the offensive line. It’s not strong and it has been overwhelmed by pass rushers the past two seasons when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked more than anyone else, 93 times.
GAME NOTES: The teams last played in 2005, with Pittsburgh winning 27-7 in Houston. Pittsburgh has won its last 5 home openers. Ben Roethlisberger threw at least 2 touchdown passes in 9 of 15 starts last season. Houston is 12-36 all-time on the road. Ahman Green didn’t carry more than 16 times in any game last season. Texans receiver Andre Johnson caught at least 1 touchdown pass in 7of 9 games in 2007.