By Samuel Njoku

The Ravens were supposed to lose to the Steelers last Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Apparently nobody told the Ravens that. They defeated Pittsburgh 20-17 and now turn their attention to the Cincinnati Bengals, a team fighting for a first-round bye in the postseason.

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Season Record

The Bengals have already been crowned AFC North Champions. Cincinnati (11-4) is currently fighting with the Broncos and Patriots for a first-round bye in the postseason. The Bengals have impressive wins over the Chargers, Chiefs and Steelers.

Bengals on Offense

The Bengals have had a potent offense for most of the season. But at this point, Cincinnati is hurting on offense. Their starting QB, Andy Dalton, has missed action since injuring his thumb in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since the injury, Cincinnati has relied on AJ McCarron to fill the void at quarterback. This is something the Ravens will take advantage of. There’s no doubt that McCarron has played well in Dalton’s absence, but the dropoff in talent is evident. Regardless of who is under center, Baltimore will still need to keep close tabs on AJ Green. The Pro Bowl WR has made life a living nightmare for Baltimore since entering the league. In his last 4 games against the Ravens, Green has caught 28 passes for 570 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The passing game should be the focal point heading into Week 17. Some of that is due to the Bengals struggles in the run game. At one time, Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill were thought of as future stars in the NFL. But for whatever reason, the big plays have been hard to come by. Still, it’ll be in Baltimore’s best interest to keep tabs on the two runners. With their dominance against the run this season, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Bengals on Defense

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The Bengals held the Broncos offense to 17 points on Monday night. Denver’s offense is statistically superior to that of the Ravens. The logical conclusion would be that Cincinnati will have success against the Ravens offense, right? Not so fast. Baltimore was firing on all cylinders on offense against Pittsburgh and could be primed to do the same against the Bengals. Unfortunately for Baltimore, Cincinnati’s defense outclasses Pittsburgh’s by a wide margin. Was the Ravens success on offense last week more to do with the Steelers deficiencies on defense or is Ryan Mallett bringing a spark Baltimore hasn’t seen since Flacco performed under center? We’ll find out on Sunday.

Bengals Players to Watch

The player to watch for the Bengals on offense is AJ Green. What he’s done against the Ravens can not be understated. He’s a nightmare for Baltimore and will be a focal point for the secondary on Sunday. Dean Pees probably hasn’t slept as he searches for a way to keep this guy in check.

Geno Atkins is a menace. Not only can he possibly make things difficult for Terrance West and Buck Allen, but he can also make Ryan Mallett very uncomfortable in the pocket. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ravens choose to attack him when the final game of the season commences.

Outlook

The Ravens are playing the last game of the season. Unlike Cincinnati, Baltimore will not be moving on to the postseason. Will this cause Baltimore to play loose with nothing to lose? Or will the Bengals fight for a first round bye be too much for the Ravens?

Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. Samuel Njoku is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.

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