By Daniel Benjamin
The Baltimore Ravens will conclude their season against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on New Year’s Day.
The Ravens (8-7) were eliminated from the playoffs following their 31-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Day. Baltimore totaled 368 yards of offense, but they were outscored 21-10 in the final quarter as the Steelers scored on three of their final possessions, totaling 240 yards of offense on those drives. It is the second straight season that the Ravens have missed the playoffs.
Baltimore snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bengals earlier this year with a 19-14 victory on Nov. 27 at M&T Bank Stadium. In that game kicker Justin Tucker booted four field goals and their defense forced two turnovers. The Ravens, who lead the all-time series 21-20-0, have lost four in a row and six of seven at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals record: 5-9-1
The Bengals have lost two straight after falling to the Houston Texans (12-10) on Christmas Eve as kicker Randy Bullock missed a 43-yard kick as time expired. They have now lost five of their last seven. Each of the Bengals’ last five losses have been by less than a touchdown.
Cincinnati is 3-3-1 in home games, though one of those games was played in London, where the matchup ended in a 27-27 tie against Washington. The Bengals have outscored their opponents by a 134-90 margin in their six games at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals on offense
Cincinnati is pretty banged up on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, running back Giovani Bernard and guard Clint Boiling all missed the Texans’ game. The 10-points were a season-low for the Bengals as they managed just 294 total yards, including 50 yards on the ground.
Despite the injuries, quarterback Andy Dalton has had a decent season. Dalton is completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 248.8 yards a game with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Cincinnati ranks 23rd in the league with 19.9 points a game and 14th in total offense with 356.0 yards a game. The Bengals also rank 16th in the league in passing and 17th in rushing with 107.7 yards a game. They are the 11th most efficient offense in the league.
Bengals on defense
Cincinnati has been solid on the defensive side of the ball all season long, permitting 20.3 points a game — which ranks 11th in the league. The Bengals have limited their opponents to less than 20 points in five of their last six games. They are also 17th in total defense, 22nd against the run and 11th against the pass.
The Bengals don’t get to the quarterback a ton, as they have recorded 30 sacks and have forced 18 turnovers.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby leads the team with 103 tackles. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has a team-high 8.5 sacks and defensive end Carlos Dansby is second with 7.0 sacks.
Cincinnati has 15 interceptions with cornerback Dre Kilpatrick and safety George Iloka each picking off three passes.
Players to watch: Running back Jeremy Hill and linebacker Vontaze Burfict
All of a sudden the Ravens can’t stop the run. Baltimore, who had been ranked No. 1 against the run for most of the year, have allowed over 100 yards on the ground in each of their last two games. They are still ranked No. 2 in run defense, but are permitting 85.1 yards a game, which is about 13 yards more than they were giving up a few weeks ago.
Jeremy Hill leads the Bengals with 55.9 yards a game, though he has been bothered by a sore knee lately, and was held to just eight yards on seven carries against the Texans. Hill has two, 100-yard games on the season. His nine rushing touchdowns ranks eighth in the NFL. If Hill is unable to go or is ineffective against the Ravens, fourth-year back Rex Burkhead will likely get some work. Burkhead has 47 carries this year and is averaging 4.8 yards per attempt.
Vontaze Burfict is a big time play-maker who is also very controversial as a result of some of his over-the-top antics.He is very good against the run and pass. In just 11 games this year, Burfict has totaled 101 tackles with two sacks and two interceptions.
Neither team has anything to play for. The Ravens have missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season while the Bengals were AFC North champions a season ago. Baltimore is 2-5-0 in road games this year and is coming off three physical, hard fought games. So, it is hard to imagine that the Ravens will have much left in the proverbial tank.