RAVENS: It's been a disappointing year for Joe Flacco and the Ravens' passing game which enters the regular-season finale, averaging just 227.7 yards per game. That ranks 19th in the NFL. Only three quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Flacco's 19 and only one has been sacked more than Flacco (46). Flacco is 98 yards away from setting a career single-season high in passing yards. Torrey Smith needs 101 yards receiving to set a single-season Ravens' record.
BENGALS: For all the criticism he takes, Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton is eighth in the league in passing yards (4,015) and tied for third in touchdown passes (31). He also directs an offense that has scored 40-plus points in four straight home games. Only two other teams in NFL history have done that. Dalton does struggle historically against the Ravens with four touchdown passes and six interceptions in five career games. A.J. Green needs 76 receiving yards this week to set a franchise record.
RAVENS: The Ravens are 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (85.4) and 32nd in yards per carry (3.1). Ray Rice has averaged 100.9 yards from scrimmage in 11 career games against Cincinnati, including a 191-yard rushing yard performance in the regular season finale at Paul Brown Stadium two years ago. He could ease some of the sting from a disappointing season by finding that form. With Flacco limited with the knee injury, the Ravens playoff hopes may depend on it.
BENGALS: The Bengals have stuck with a two-headed rushing attack all year, featuring physical, between-the-tackles runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis and explosive rookie Giovani Bernard. Bernard, a candidate for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year, has 17 fewer rushing yards than Green-Ellis despite getting 52 fewer carries. He also has eight total touchdowns and scored on an 18-yard screen pass against the Ravens in November. Bernard had eight catches in that game.
RAVENS: Like the Ravens' pass rush, this group has faded late in the season, reaching its low point last week against the New England Patriots. The Patriots dominated the Ravens at the line of scrimmage, rushing for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Many of those yards came straight up the middle. Overall, the Ravens rank a respectable ninth against the run but they've allowed five rushing touchdowns over the past four weeks after surrendering only one over their first 11 games.
BENGALS: Even while playing a good chunk of the season without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals have maintained one of the league's better run defenses. They've allowed only 99.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks sixth in the NFL, and six rushing touchdowns, which is tied with the Ravens for the fourth lowest total in the league. Brandon Thompson has filled in capably for Atkins. Weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict leads the league with 157 tackles.
RAVENS: The secondary has improved more than any other Ravens position group though like the rest of the team, it struggled last week. The Ravens had two or fewer sacks for the fourth straight game and breakdowns on the back end allowed Patriots' receivers to run free. Cornerback Jimmy Smith could shadow star receiver A.J. Green, similar to how the Ravens played Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil had three of his 9.5 sacks against the Bengals in Week 10.
BENGALS: The Bengals are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (211.3), tied for eighth in interceptions (17) and tied for 11th in sacks (41). It's not a dominant group, but they have several guys who can get to the quarterback, led by Carlos Dunlap, and their secondary has survived an injury to cornerback Leon Hall. Adam Jones has filled in well for Hall. If Terence Newman misses a second straight game with a knee injury, Dre Kirkpatrick would start in his place.
RAVENS: Kicker Justin Tucker finally missed one last week, sailing a 37-yarder wide left and ending his streak of 33 consecutive field goals. With one more field goal, Tucker will break Matt Stover's single-season team record of 35, set in 2000. Tucker is also just five points away from setting a team single-season record. He hit the overtime game-winner against Cincinnati in the first meeting. Thanks largely to Jacoby Jones, the Ravens are among the leaders in kickoff and punt return yardage.
BENGALS: Cincinnati's Mike Nugent is considered one of the better kickers in the NFL, but he might be getting a little rusty. He has not attempted a field goal in three straight games and he has only one attempt over his past four. Shawn Powell averaged 40.0 yards per punt last week in his first game since replacing Kevin Huber, who suffered a broken jaw and cracked vertebrae on Dec. 15. Brandon Tate and Adam Jones are the Bengals' primary return men.
RAVENS: Clearly, the trademarks of John Harbaugh-coached Ravens' teams have been their resiliency and ability to win big games. But that will be put to the test as they try to rebound from the most lopsided loss in the Harbaugh era at a stadium where the visitors haven't won all year. In the previous five seasons under Harbaugh, the Ravens never went into Week 17 needing a win and help. The Ravens, who are 2-5 on the road this season, rank 26th in penalties and 23rd in turnover ratio.
BENGALS: Cincinnati has already unseated the Ravens as the AFC North champions. Now, the Bengals can make sure that they don't have to see their division rivals again this season while strengthening their own playoff position. The Bengals would secure the second seed and a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots' loss to Buffalo. The Bengals, who have split the past 14 games with the Ravens, could clinch an 8-0 home mark for the second time in franchise history.
PREDICTION: Needing a victory over the Bengals and a loss by either the Miami Dolphins or the San Diego Chargers to make the playoffs, the Ravens have said all the right things about focusing on the task at hand. Knowing the team's championship pedigree, it would be surprising if they didn't play one of their best games. But that won't be enough as the team's shortcomings all season — no running game, too many mistakes, not creating enough turnovers — cause their undoing one final time. It's going to be a long offseason for the organization which will fall short of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Bengals, 26-20Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun