The Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1) will end their first losing season since 2010 on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Paul Brown Stadium. Here are some quick hits heading into the season-finale.
Bengals-Ravens Tradition: The last time the Bengals ended the regular season with a non-divisional contest was in 2009. On primetime, their backups were dominated by the New York Jets, 37-3. Gang Green clinched a playoff spot with the win and defeated the Bengals one week later in the Wild Card round.
Since then, the NFL has made week 17 a divisional parade. On New Year’s Day, 16 divisional games are on tap. Like banging pots and pans at midnight, the Bengals and Ravens meeting in the regular-season finale has become a tradition.
Sunday will mark the sixth time in seven years these two teams will meet in week 17. And for the first time, there are no playoff implications with both teams mathematically eliminated.
2010: Ravens 13, Bengals 7 — Ravens needed a win and a Steelers’ loss to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh beat Cleveland, locking Baltimore into a Wild Card spot. Carson Palmer’s last game as a Bengal ended with three giveaways and falling two yards short of pulling off an upset.
2011: Ravens 24, Bengals 16 — Ray Rice‘s 191 yard, 2-touchdown performance led Baltimore to a division title. Cincinnati dropped to 9-7, but secured a playoff spot later in the day with losses by the Jets and Broncos.
2012: Bengals 23, Ravens 17 — On a 26-degree afternoon, the Bengals defeated their division-rival on the heels of Carlos Dunlap‘s pick-six of Tyrod Taylor and Marvin Jones‘s first career touchdown. Cincinnati was already locked into the postseason (as was Baltimore) and needed help to advance any higher than the six seed but wouldn’t get it. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl.
2013: Bengals 34, Ravens 17 — Despite four interceptions, Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Cincinnati eliminated the reigning Super Bowl Champions.
2015: Bengals 24, Ravens 16 — In A.J McCarron‘s first home start since taking over for an injured Dalton, the Bengals pulled out a victory despite trailing at half time. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert both caught touchdowns and Jeremy Hill‘s 41-yard rushing score was the dagger. The Bengals needed a Broncos’ loss to San Diego later in the day to clinch a first-round bye, but Denver pulled out a win, benching Brock Osweiler for Peyton Manning in the process.
Sunday, though, these two teams will be playing for….. pride, perhaps? The Bengals haven’t been swept by the Birds since 2011. Cincinnati can still finish above .500 (4-3) at their home venue with a victory.
Green out: Despite promise that he would play on Christmas Eve against Houston, A.J. Green was held out due to the partial hamstring tear he suffered against Buffalo on November 20th.
He wasn’t placed on IR, but Green will not suit up against Baltimore in a meaningless game. This means he will fall just short (36 yards) from his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Randy Moss will remain the only wide receiver in NFL history to tally 1,000 yards in his first six seasons.
Erickson’s top spot: Preseason favorite Alex Erickson can capture the AFC’s kick return title on Sunday, but will need some help. Jaguars‘ receiver Marqise Lee needs two returns on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts for his 30.3-yard average to leapfrog Erickson’s 28.4-yard clip.
After an impressive preseason where he became a lock for the end zone, the undrafted receiver from Wisconsin earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster. Despite a slow start, Erickson has found success returning kicks, starting with the team’s trip to London.
Washington opened the game with a touchdown, but Erickson returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards. Three minutes and 47 seconds later, Giovani Bernard tied the game at seven. Two weeks later, Erickson opened up the second half against the Giants with a season-best 82-yard return that set up a Jeremy Hill touchdown run.
Then, against Pittsburgh, Erickson’s 72-yard kick return helped cap off a 20-point first half.
Per Elias, he’s the first player in franchise history with three kick returns of over 65 yards. He’s yet to find the end zone, though. In fact, Bernard Scott was the last Bengal to run a kickoff back for a touchdown, doing so in an 18-12 win at Heinz Field back in ’09.
Thanks to the NFL’s touchback-friendly kickoff rules, Erickson (or any other Bengal for that matter) will not come close to Tab Perry‘s franchise-best 1,562 kick-return yards in the division-winning 2005 season.
Marvin Lewis and Steve Smith Sr.: Of the two, Steve Smith Sr. will be the one ending his career in Cincinnati on New Year’s Day. On the other hand, Marvin Lewis dismissed rumors of his retirement after the season, calling the report “unfortunate.”
ESPN reported Lewis plans on returning in 2017 for his 15th season patrolling the Bengals’ sidelines.
You know the stats by now. This season will be Lewis’s fourth losing campaign during his tenure with the Bengals. He’s 0-7 in the postseason and Cincinnati owns the NFL’s longest span without a playoff victory, a drought that will continue for another 365-day cycle.
In the Bengals’ most recent win — a 23-10 decision in Cleveland– Lewis passed George Allen for 30th on the all-time wins list. He and Jim Mora (26th) are the only two coaches in the top 70 without a postseason victory.
Dalton eyes his own mark: Quarterback Andy Dalton has only thrown for 17 touchdowns this season, but is quietly on the verge of another important statistic. Dalton, the Bengals’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award thanks to the Andy Dalton Foundation, needs just 20 passing yards to record his second 4,000-yard season.
The Red Rifle was on pace to eclipse 4,000 yards last season. Needing 809 to hit it (just 202.2 per game) over the last four weeks of the regular season, he broke his thumb against Pittsburgh and missed the rest of the season.
With an outstanding game, he can break his own franchise record for passing yards, too. He set the current mark of 4,293 yards in 2013 and needs 314 on Sunday to set a new Bengals’ single-season best. The Ravens’ have allowed just three 300-yard passers (Eli Manning, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady) in 2016.
Down-Hill struggle: Going into the Holidays, Jeremy Hill needed 169 rushing yards in the final two games to record his second 1,000-yard season of his 3-year career. However, a knee injury took him out of the 12-10 loss to Houston after just one second-half carry.
He now sits at questionable for Sunday against the Ravens and Bleacher Report claimed early on Thursday that he is not expected to suit up. If he did play, it would be tough sledding to get to 1,000 yards. The Ravens’ AFC-best run defense has allowed just three 100-yard rushers all season (Isaiah Crowell, Matt Forte, and Ryan Mathews).
Hill will have to wait until 2017 to join the ranks of Corey Dillon (6), Rudi Johnson (3) Cedric Benson (3), and James Brooks (3) as the only running backs in franchise history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons.
Rex Burkhead will continue to finally get his share of touches. Against Houston, the 5’10” 216-pound running back racked up a career-high 67 all-purpose yards and had two 9-yard carries on the final drive that ended in Randy Bullock‘s misfire at the gun. He’s been a vital part of the offense since Gio tore his ACL against Buffalo, and these final weeks of the season have served as an audition for the fourth-year back as he ventures into free agency in March.
If Green and/or Vontaze Burfict is placed on injured reserve, the Bengals could see the activation of rookie running back Tra Carson off the practice squad. Carson, who was born 22 months after the Bengals’ last playoff win, ran for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015 at Texas A&M.
Tight end turnstile: Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert had back surgery on Thursday, three days after being put on injured reserve. His back injury was in full effect against Pittsburgh, causing him to miss the loss in Houston. This offseason surgery is a bit better than last season, when Eifert didn’t go under the knife until May to repair an injured ankle he suffered in the Pro Bowl.
Sunday will be the 27th game Eifert has missed over his four-year career. But his impact on the field has been evident, racking up 18 touchdowns in the last 21 games.
With Eifert out and Tyler Kroft battling a knee injury, C.J. Uzomah will be the team’s only tight end active for Sunday against Baltimore. Uzomah has 22 catches for 221 yards and zero touchdowns this season.