Some say this will be the season that age finally catches up with the Baltimore Ravens, who host AFC North division rivals Cincinnati tonight.

The argument has some basis in fact. The total combined age of the Ravens’ projected starting offensive line is 159, and conventional wisdom states that if the combined age of your offensive line is greater than 150, a steep decline may occur.

But there is a little misnomer here, as New England and Pittsburgh’s starting line-ups are older.

The departure of starting guard Ben Grubbs is a concern, but the drafting of Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski, either of whom could adequately fill in, tempers the angst.

The major concern is not with the Ravens’ line, but the Achilles injury suffered by linebacker and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, which could have a big impact if Courtney Upshaw does not have a big rookie season.

Quarterback Joe Flacco has a nice trio of receivers with Jacoby Jones arriving to supplement Anquan Boldin and speedster Torrey Smith, while Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are two tight ends who can catch as well as block well. Throw in an elite running back in Ray Rice, and the Ravens still have the pieces in place to make a run at the playoffs.

However, they face a schedule that pits them against 11 quarterbacks with Pro Bowl experience and the fourth toughest slate in the NFL. If they can get to the post-season, they are Super Bowl contenders.

Cincinnati have gone to the post-season in consecutive seasons just once. Only twice have they followed a playoff appearance with a winning record the following year. So the Bengals are out to buck a few historical trends, coming off last season’s playoff loss to Houston.

But a slew of injuries in pre-season, particularly to starting left guard Travelle Wharton, centre Kyle Cook, running backs BenJarvus Green Ellis and Bernard Scott, and rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick do not bode well.

Delve further into their perceived improvement last season and you will find it was their ability to beat bad teams that counted. They went 1-8 against teams who boasted a winning record.

Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 20 touchdowns last year and surpassed 3,000 yards. He will need to be equally productive in his second season if the Bengals are to get past Baltimore or Pittsburgh, because there are still some glaring questions holes in their secondary.

In their last nine games, the Bengals will face only one team who posted a losing record last year (Kansas City, who went 7-9), so if they reach the playoffs, they will have earned it. You’d bet against it, however.

The Ravens have covered the handicap in their last four Week 1 games, but the Bengals are 4-1-1 against the handicap in the last six meetings with Baltimore.

The bulk of the money, given Cincinnati’s injury situation, will come for the hosts. Last season, the Ravens went undefeated at home and were one of only three teams to accomplish that feat. The Ravens have won 18 of their last 19 home games, and are 27-5 in Baltimore since John Harbaugh took over four years ago. But they face a tough home slate which includes New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Denver and the New York Giants. And here’s a baseball bat-to-the-head, big, bold prediction: They’ll lose two of those. You can M&T Bank on it.

The obvious call is to take the Ravens to cover the handicap tonight, but with two good defences, moving the ball may be problematic. Good defences traditionally have the edge at this time of the season in any case. And the Ravens’s defence is usually granite like, with linebacker Ray Lewis at their heart.

So a play on the total points might be worthwhile. Lay the BETDAQ over 41-points total.

It’s time for a musical interlude. This one goes out to Lewis and his defensive buddies. Heart of Stone seems pretty apt.

In the second game of the night, an all-AFC West battle sees the San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Raiders.

We assessed San Diego in depth last week and suggested that they will be a team flying under the radar this season.

In an ocean of poobah previews, this column will be an idyllic island of faith in head coach Norv Turner.

Remember, the underachieving Chargers always seem to give their best when their backs are against the wall and with his job very much on the line, let’s just say that Turner should be feeling like a Hell’s Angel who’s taken a wrong turn and is caught in the middle of a gay pride march.

The Chargers have worked feverishly to upgrade a defence that fell from first place in 2010 to 16th overall in 2011, and the ‘us against the world’ mentality will serve them well.

The Raiders, the original bad-boy NFL misfits, have never really threatened to return to the halcyon days of the early 70s, when Ron Wolf’s encyclopaedic knowledge of college players and evaluation of talent was as instrumental in their ascendancy as John Madden’s psychology or Al Davis’s win-at-any-cost philosophy.

The 2012 Raiders vintage could do with an injection of nastiness. Their defence lacks the passion that the likes of Jack Tatum, Phil Villapiano and Otis Sistrunk brought to those Madden teams.

Oakland allowed 27.1 points per game last season and despite bringing in some serviceable free agents, they may still possess the worst secondary in the AFC.

Upon the death of Davis, it was mooted that Wolf, who left in 1975, might return to the Raiders in a GM role, a position he holds at Green Bay.

Instead, he gave his blessing to Reggie McKenzie, calling him a “tremendous evaluator”. So at least the Raiders look in good hands now.

As for tonight’s game, there should be plenty of points. In their last five meetings in Oakland, the points total has gone over Vegas expectations and the Chargers have gone 8-2 against the handicap on their last 10 visits.

The underdog is 6-0 against the spread in their last six meetings and the Chargers are one-point dogs on the BETDAQ line.

A fresh Darren McFadden will be a real handful for the Chargers. If he could stay healthy for a full 16 games, McFadden has the potential to be the league MVP, as he is one of the slickest running backs to ever play the game.

The Chargers are notoriously slow starters (although they bucked this trend last season) but they have the better quarterback in Philip Rivers and having put faith in them, it would not do to side against them in their first outing. Fingers crossed, then.

Lay – Over 41 points Baltimore/Cincinnati
Back – San Diego Moneyline
Back – Over 46.5 points San Diego/Oakland

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