RAVENS PASSING GAME: In last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Joe Flacco eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career. However, he is tied with the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees for the most passing attempts in the NFL with 623. Flacco needs 128 passing yards to break Vinny Testaverde’s single-season franchise record. Mike Wallace is 16 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Expect an emotional Steve Smith Sr. in possibly his final NFL game.
BENGALS PASSING GAME: Andy Dalton’s supporting cast keeps thinning as standout tight end Tyler Eifert became the latest Bengal to hit injured reserve. Three of the Bengals’ top five pass catchers, including star A.J. Green, are out. Dalton targeted rookie sixth-round pick Cody Core 14 times last week. Core entered the game with five career catches. Dalton has been sacked 40 times, the second most in the NFL behind the Buffalo Bills’ Tyrod Taylor. The Bengals offensive line has taken a big step back this year.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Terrance West has started 12 consecutive games as the lead back, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens give rookie Kenneth Dixon a dress rehearsal for next season. Dixon gets better each week and he looked especially fresh and explosive in rushing for 57 yards on 12 carries against the Steelers. The Ravens have run the ball 351 times this year, threatening a franchise record. Their fewest rushing attempts in a single season is 383, set last year.
BENGALS RUNNING GAME: A knee injury has slowed starting running back Jeremy Hill, who has been held to under 40 rushing yards in four of his past five games. Hill had just six carries for seven yards in the Bengals’ loss to the Houston Texans last week. His struggles, along with the season-ending knee injury to Giovani Bernard, have given Rex Burkhead an opportunity. He’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry and eight yards per reception this season.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: For whatever reason, this group has faded down the stretch. Over the past three weeks, Ravens’ opponents averaged 130.3 rushing yards per game. To put that in perspective, the Ravens held nine of their first 12 opponents to 65 rushing yards or less. The Ravens limited the Bengals to 64 rushing yards in the first meeting. Nose tackle Brandon Williams, the anchor of the run defense, could be playing his final game as a Raven, as he’s a free agent following the season.
BENGALS RUSH DEFENSE: The Bengals are big and active up front, led by standout defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is always tough to handle. However, the Bengals haven’t been very imposing against the run this year. They are allowing 116 rushing yards per game, which ranks 17th. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby leads the team with 103 tackles. Vincent Rey started last week in place of Vontaze Burfict, who was dealing with concussion symptoms.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens have had some challenges on the back end, especially without Jimmy Smith, who will miss his third straight game Sunday. However, the defense has succeeded in its quest to force more turnovers. The Ravens lead the league with 18 interceptions after they had just 17 total over the previous two seasons. In the first meeting, the Ravens batted down four of Dalton’s final eight passing attempts. The pass rush has been nonexistent lately with just two sacks over the last three games.
BENGALS PASS DEFENSE: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick helped limit Steve Smith Sr. to four catches for 20 yards when the two teams met in late November, and he said plenty about it following the game. Expect some fireworks if he’s matched up Sunday with Smith. Safety George Iloka, cornerback Adam Jones and pass rusher Carlos Dunlap always seem to play well against the Ravens. The Bengals are allowing just over 16 points per game over the second half of the season, which ranks third in the NFL.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker enters Sunday with 10 field goals of 50-plus yards this season — one shy of setting an NFL record. He’s two field goals and four points away from setting Ravens’ single-season records. Tucker’s 37 field goals are three more than any other kicker has made this year. Punter Sam Koch has placed 35 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the third most in the NFL. With nothing on the line, the Ravens should give kick returner Chris Moore the green light to take the ball out of the end zone to show what he can do.
BENGALS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bengals’ kicking game has been a nightmare this season. Cincinnati waived long-time kicker Mike Nugent two weeks ago after he missed his sixth extra-point try. They signed Randy Bullock, who cost the team a win last week against the Texans by missing a game-winning field goal attempt from 43 yards. In other areas the Bengals have found production. Rookie Alex Erickson ranks second in the NFL with an average of 28.4 yards per kickoff return. Margus Hunt has blocked three kicks this season.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: There figures to be some emotional and physical letdown for the Ravens after they were just seconds away from coming to Cincinnati with an opportunity to clinch the division. Now, they’re forced to get up for a game with no playoff implications, a first for Flacco and a few others. Harbaugh held his team together during last season’s injury-marred 5-11 debacle, so Sunday will provide another test. The Ravens haven’t won at Paul Brown Stadium since the final week of the 2011 season.
BENGALS INTANGIBLES: It’s been a disappointing year for the Bengals, who had Super Bowl aspirations when the season began. They are just 2-5-1 in their last eight games and they’ve been unable to overcome a rash of injuries to top players. Marvin Lewis’ job status has become a topic of debate, though the players clearly haven’t quit on him. They’ve just been unable to win close games. Their last five losses are by a total of 16 points. They also are one of the least penalized teams in the league.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have talked all week about how they’re focused on this game and finishing 9-7. However, given how devastating the Steelers’ loss was, you have to expect some sort of letdown. One of Harbaugh’s best qualities, though, is having his team ready to play no matter the circumstance. There are coaches and players who will be participating in their final games as Ravens on Sunday, so the visitors should play with enough emotion to carry them to a victory over a decimated team.