RAVENS: Ryan Mallett's debut with the Ravens was a smashing success. He got the ball out quickly and spread it around as seven Ravens had two receptions or more. He also wasn't picked off, breaking a streak of six straight games in which a Ravens quarterback had thrown an interception. The Bengals defense will present a much greater test. Kamar Aiken needs 132 receiving yards to reach 1,000. He's had five catches or more in eight straight games, tying a franchise record.
BENGALS: Since taking over for an injured Andy Dalton, quarterback A.J. McCarron has thrown four touchdown passes and two interceptions over three games. He sprained his left, nonthrowing wrist last week, but the Bengals are optimistic that it won't affect him. He'd be wise to target star receiver A.J. Green, who has destroyed the Ravens with 28 catches for 570 yards and five touchdown receptions over the past four meetings. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones have combined for 25 touchdown catches. (EDGE: BENGALS)
RAVENS: The Ravens established their running game early in last week's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and stuck with it, something that they haven't done often this year. With 362 rushing attempts this season, the Ravens are on pace to shatter the previous franchise low in that category, which was 408. The Ravens ran for 36 yards in a Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the second lowest total of the season. Rookie starter Buck Allen had three carries in that game.
BENGALS: Running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard complement each other well, with Hill providing the size and power, and Bernard bringing the speed and elusiveness. However, the one-two punch hasn't translated this year into anything more than the Bengals being a slightly above average running team. They are gaining 110.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 14th in the NFL. Hill has 10 rushing touchdowns, but he's averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Bernard is a home-run threat. (EDGE: BENGALS)
RAVENS: When the Ravens played the Bengals in late September, they allowed Andy Dalton to throw for 372 yards, the second highest total against them all season. However, Dalton is injured and the secondary's performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers was the latest proof that this group has improved. The Ravens have allowed fewer than 200 net passing yards in five of the past seven games. Rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil has gone four straight games without a sack and has just six sacks this season.
BENGALS: The Bengals force turnovers, get after the quarterback, and have long given the Ravens fits defensively. Cincinnati has 19 interceptions, tied for third most in the league, and safety Reggie Nelson is tied for the league lead with eight. The Bengals are also tied for fourth in the NFL with 41 sacks. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have combined for 231/2 of them. Recent injuries to cornerback Leon Hall and safety George Iloka has challenged the team's secondary depth. (EDGE: BENGALS)
RAVENS: Allowing 101.1 rushing yards per game, the Ravens run defense ranks 11th in the NFL. The defense has finished in the top 10 against the run in 10 of the past 12 seasons. They have surrendered more than 100 yards rushing in four straight games after opponents hit that number just twice in their first 11 games. One reason for that is that they are keeping more defensive backs on the field to take away big plays. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith is ninth in the NFL with 118 tackles.
BENGALS: With a lot of bulk up front and several active linebackers, the Bengals are extremely tough against the run. They allow just 94.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the NFL. Other than C.J. Anderson's 39-yard touchdown run last week, the Bengals controlled the Denver Broncos running game, and the Ravens have schemes similar to Denver's. Cincinnati has eight players with 50 or more tackles, including Vontaze Burfict, whose return has strengthened the defense. (EDGE: BENGALS)
RAVENS: Justin Tucker's long kickoffs and Pro Bowl selection Sam Koch's directional punts will be needed to neutralize the Bengals' quality return game. Koch, who is second in the NFL in net punting average, could set franchise records in both net and gross punting average with a good day in Cincinnati. The Ravens are also on pace to allow the lowest punt return average (5 yards per return) in team history. Kaelin Clay is averaging 13.5 yards per punt return and 25 yards per kickoff return.
BENGALS: The Bengals have had one of the better special teams units in the NFL over the years. They haven't been as consistent this year, though Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber are an accomplished kicking duo, Brandon Tate and Adam Jones are dangerous veteran return men and former Raven Cedric Peerman is one of the league's top special teams players. Nugent has missed four field-goal attempts from under 50 yards this season. (EDGE: RAVENS)
RAVENS: The Ravens have done what coach John Harbaugh vowed that they would do: play hard until the end. They were rewarded for their efforts in the Week 16 victory over Pittsburgh, and the players appear just as motivated to make the Bengals' postseason path a little more difficult. However, Cincinnati has won four straight games in the matchup, and the Ravens haven't won at Paul Brown Stadium since 2011.
BENGALS: Marvin Lewis traditionally doesn't rest all his starters in Week 17 anyway, and he certainly won't Sunday, when his team could clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory over the Ravens and a loss by the Denver Broncos to the San Diego Chargers. And the Bengals love beating the Ravens regardless of the situation, so they'll be especially motivated. The Bengals are 4-1 against AFC North foes this season, and 5-2 at Paul Brown Stadium. They are fourth in the NFL with a plus-nine turnover ratio. (EDGE: BENGALS)
No Raven is saying that beating the Bengals and preventing them from securing a first-round bye would salvage the team's disappointing season. But it would make a whole lot of players feel better about themselves heading into a long offseason. By now, you know the Ravens are going to maintain their effort and energy regardless of how Sunday plays out. However, the Bengals are just too talented and deep for a Ravens team playing a slew of backups. Let the countdown to free agency and the draft begin. BENGALS, 26-13