Bengals vs. Falcons game preview: James Harrison makes his Cincinnati debut Thursday night

USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta and Cincinnati open their 2013 preseason slates Thursday night in the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta Falcons were one of several teams that placed big bets on their quarterbacks this offseason. The team signed Matt Ryan to a loaded extension in the offseason, perhaps to the detriment of a defense that sustained several formidable losses this offseason. Gone are the likes of John Abraham, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson from a defense that wasn't particularly good in 2012.

The Cincinnati Bengals will be a strong early preseason test when they head to the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. The Bengals didn't make many moves in the offseason, but they didn't need to coming off a respectable 10-6 season. The team did well in the 2013 NFL Draft, adding tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard with their first two picks. Both players will be solid intermediate passing targets for Andy Dalton.

Meet the Bengals

The Bengals are coming off their second straight playoff appearance, and arguably should be an even better team in 2013. Of course, A.J. Green is back as one of the most dominant receivers in the league, helping out the steady but unspectacular arm of Dalton. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will form the other half of what could be a solid timeshare in the backfield with Bernard behind an offensive line that remains intact from the previous season.

The Bengals did make something of an offseason splash on defense. James Harrison comes over from Pittsburgh Steelers to give Cincinnati yet another strong pass rusher. It remains to be seen whether Harrison will be the same menace he was in his prime, but the Bengals have plenty of other options to get after the quarterback if not. Geno Atkins is one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, and Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are no slouches.

Meet the Falcons

The Falcons have clear Super Bowl aspirations. Unfortunately for them, they fell agonizingly short in the NFC Championship Game despite entering the playoffs as the conference's top seed. The usual suspects return on offense. Ryan leads what should be one of the best offenses in the NFL with help from Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and four-fifths of last year's offensive line. What's more, the Falcons were able to wrangle Steven Jackson away from the St. Louis Rams, giving the offense a more dynamic runner than Michael Turner, not to mention a much better pass catcher.

The Falcons could run into some problems on defense, however. The team added Osi Umenyiora to replace Abraham, but Umenyiora, 32, struggled mightily last season in New York. In the secondary, rookie Desmond Trufant will be expected to contribute immediately at cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. Considering the struggles that the Falcons could have rushing the passer, having a young player in defensive backfield may mean trouble.

Local Takes: Bengals

The Bengals are being featured on HBO's Hard Knocks this season, and there is plenty to take away about the team from the series, according to Anthony Cosenza of the SB Nation blog Cincy Jungle:

We have heard throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons how tight this Bengals locker room is, but we really began to see that last night. Whether it was Andrew Whitworth and Andy Dalton hanging out in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's office late with his son, or seeing how much camaraderie has been built with the undrafted free agents, these guys just like each other. Not only that--they are producing on the field.

Local Takes: Falcons

Right tackle Mike Johnson was carted off the Falcons' practice field during practice Tuesday, and according to Dave Choate of the SB Nation blog The Falchoholic, the long-term loss could be devastating:

That said, this is a hell of a blow to this line. Johnson was far from a known quantity, having battled injuries in the past and only drawing one start in his three seasons in the league. What he offered was an impressive run-blocking resume compiled in college, positional versatility and a serious challenge for a right tackle job left vacant by Clabo's ouster. Removing him from the equation knocks out a starter at worst and a key piece of depth at best, leaving an offensive line pocked with question marks thinner and less stable.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Falcoholic and Cincy Jungle, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@TheFalcoholic

@CincyJungle

@JeffSchultzAJC - Falcons beat writer

@joereedy - Bengals beat writer

Prediction

You can throw out the records when the Falcons and Bengals get together, which is good because it's the first week of the preseason, nobody has a record, and the records don't matter anyway. Home field advantage matters little in preseason contests, and with Atlanta still sorting out their offensive line and Cincinnati possessing plenty of options for rushing the quarterback and bottling up the running game, I'll take the Bengals in a close one.

Cincinnati 21 - Atlanta 16

Odds

Atlanta opened the week as a 4-point favorite, but gamblers have bet the line down to 3 in most spots and 2.5 in some, according to OddsShark.com.

Next Week

Atlanta has a second consecutive mid-week game, traveling to Baltimore to face the Ravens Thursday night. The Bengals will enjoy a long week at home before hosting the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.

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