Nothing says a key Week 17 matchup like a team fighting for a postseason berth going against a divisional opponent that is just wishing for this season to be over. But the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals’ final-week matchup is just that. Even with this matchup looking quite one-sided on paper, it could ultimately be a very close game as both teams go all out on the last game of the season.

For the Ravens, their trek to remaining in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots has not been easy, as they have had to claw their way into contention after a lackluster season. With opposing defenses seeming to have figured out, or at least slightly figured out, quarterback Lamar Jackson, their run-focused offense has been much less efficient this year than last.

The Bengals have barely been treading water ever since their rookie stalwart Joe Burrow suffered a torn ACL months back, and even when he was playing, they were still already in 2021 mode. With both Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley trading snaps at QB, this team is limping its way to the end of their regular season, just happy to have done as well as they have.

But with a recent shocking victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals have become a team that has enjoyed playing spoiler, and they have that same role to potentially fill on Sunday against the Ravens. For Baltimore, this game should not be overlooked.

Lamar Jackson shocks the world and is a pocket QB

Ravens, Lamar Jackson

Up to this point, the 2020 season has been a bit of a struggle for Jackson – his efficiency both throwing and running the ball have become suspect in moments. At times, he has been a scapegoat for the Ravens struggling, a total and complete night-and-day comparison from the 2019 season.

But for Jackson, he has a great chance to shine against the Bengals, a team that he was held to 180 passing yards and 2 TD’s against last time around, throwing an interception in the process. But the biggest issue of this Week 5 game was that Jackson only ran the ball two times, earning three yards total on the ground.

The carry total was the lowest of the season by five carries, so the Bengals were focused on keeping Jackson in the pocket and bottled up, something that contributed to his inefficient performance across the board. So, while the past obviously points to another struggling game for Jackson, the opposite is a perfect outcome to happen instead.

The Bengals will most likely be wanting to get some final looks at some roster-bubble players, ones that could see some considerable playing time next year, so the Ravens may not be going up against the A-Team from Cincy. Plus, Jackson may need to show the coaching staff that he is actually capable of being counted on as a thrower, something that certainly would be a great revelation for a team on the cusp of a postseason berth.

Throwing for a season-high 300 yards and 3 scores would be a fantastic way to help ensure the Ravens do win this game, and not having to count as heavily on the running game, as usual, would be the nice cherry on top.

Dobbins/Edwards/Jackson/Ingram combine for 100 rushing yards

Mark Ingram J.K. Dobbins Ravens

Now, with the uptick in passing yards, the obvious caveat attached to that lies within the team’s rushing attack, which they have so heavily used this year.

When these two teams faced off back in Week 5, it was Mark Ingram who led the team in rushing yards with 57, yet Ohio State rookie J.K. Dobbins provided key impacts in both the rushing and passing attacks, as he ran for 34 yards and hauled in three passes for 21 yards.

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The Bengals are putrid on both ends of defense, as they are very susceptible through the air and on the ground – according to ESPN, their defense is ranked second to last in QB pressure statistics, and they allow the second-most yards per carry to opposing backfields. So, something has to break their way, and they would be smart to force Jackson to beat them through the air.

Dobbins has taken over lead-back duties, even if it was far too late in the season to be given that role, Edwards is the backup who gets a decent amount of run, and Ingram has been a healthy scratch lately, as the depth chart has completely been turned on its head. Both Edwards and Ingram are fighting through injuries, so their statuses are up in the air for Sunday, pushing even more work to Dobbins.

For Jackson, his rushing inefficiencies have been on full display this year, and while Cincy will naturally still let him get out of the pocket, it could be a pass-heavy game for Baltimore, so running the ball efficiently may come few and far between.

Dez Bryant continues to shine for Baltimore

Dez Bryant, Ravens

When he was brought up to the active roster a few weeks back, the return of wide receiver Dez Bryant to the NFL was not expected to happen again. Having to fight through injuries, the former Cowboys star was climbing an uphill battle, but it has been awesome to see him make it all the way back.

The Ravens are in desperate need of competent pass catchers, and while Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown certainly has had his fair share of solid performances, they need more.

While the best days for Bryant seem to certainly be behind him, he can fill a competent WR2/3 role for this team, not expected to produce at a high clip but can offer decent bursts of production when needed. Plus, he helps take some pressure off of Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, helping open up the offense.

In a (hopeful) pass-heavy script, Bryant could his longest run of the season in terms of a snap count, increasing the kind of target share that he could command as well. Not to mention, getting Bryant a higher snap count hopefully will help get him more into playing shape, giving the coaching staff a better idea for what he can bring to the table in the postseason (if they make it).

Five-plus catches, over 70 yards, and a score to top it off for Bryant would be a great way to open 2021 for Bryant.

Baltimore’s defense brings the heat – early and often

Ravens, Calais Campbell, Lamar JacksonThe Bengals allow the third-highest sack rate in the NFL, and if how the Ravens defense pressure Daniel Jones and the Giants last week is any indication for their game plan this week, watch out.

The Ravens got to Jones a total of seven times in Week 16, six of those coming in the second half, as they bumped up their pressure rate to a nice 69 percent (24/35) of dropbacks. With the Bengals down to Giovanni Bernard and Samaje Perine as their main running backs, the chances that they decide to throw the ball often looks juicy for BAL’s pass rush.

Having only allowed a field goal the last time they played, Baltimore picked off Cincy once and recovered two fumbles, producing their best overall defensive performance of the season so far. Players like Calais Campbell, Matthew Judon, and even Patrick Queen should be able to get in on the action, making it a very long day for the Bengals in passing downs.