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Bengals Bytes (1/1): Branching off

A coaching tree is forming under Marvin Lewis as two of his former coordinators are playoff bound. John Harbaugh has an interesting comparison for AJ McCarron. A list of players and coaches who need a fresh start, and head coaches who have the most to lose or gain in Week 17.

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Bengals see 'night and day' difference in AJ McCarron the past three weeks
When AJ McCarron was thrown into the NFL fire three weeks ago, playing his first meaningful reps as the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback in the immediate wake of Andy Dalton's thumb injury, he was simply trying to keep the offense afloat.

A tree grows in Cincinnati
The Bengals are still looking for a top seed in the AFC playoffs, but heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 19) against Baltimore, there are other trappings surrounding  one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. There is the buzz of preparation for another home playoff game, their second in three years. The team tied with the NFL’s fourth best record since 2013 is planning five Pro Bowl trips and probably more. Andy Dalton, third in the NFL, could win his first NFL passing title without throwing a ball Sunday. If the Bengals hold the Ravens to 20 points or less, it will be the fewest points ever allowed by a Cincinnati defense in 16 games.

Hue Jackson next branch of Lewis’ tree
Even with one week left in the regular season, Andrew Whitworth can come to terms with the reality of life beyond January. It probably won’t include Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator. No need to tiptoe around the truth. More head coach positions will open following the conclusion of the season and Jackson will top many lists. Whitworth even offered a message for any list not including his OC.

Bengals rookie gets new number, new role
Bengals rookie tackle Jake Fisher has a new number and presumably a new role. With H-back Ryan Hewitt injured, Fisher has switched his jersey from No. 74 to No. 44. That means he won’t have to report as an eligible receiver and suggests he’ll play a significant role as an H-back, tight end and possibly even fullback.

Whitworth: 'No question' we can win with AJ McCarron
This isn't how the season was supposed to unfold. Rocketing toward the playoffs, we were supposed to be writing this week how Andy Dalton was poised to end the playoff nightmares. Instead, the Bengals have a different postseason conundrum. Can AJ McCarron lead them off the schneid?

Behind Enemy Lines

Are Cincinnati Bengals new primary rival of the Baltimore Ravens?
Cornerback Jimmy Smith gave an unexpected response when someone brought up the fact that the Baltimore Ravens have had the Pittsburgh Steelers' number lately but have struggled against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ravens' John Harbaugh compares AJ McCarron to Drew Brees
The Baltimore Ravens had quarterback AJ McCarron in for a pre-draft visit last year, and coach John Harbaugh remembers an interesting moment with him.

Bosa headed for draft, unlikely headed for Ravens
Tied for 18th in the NFL in sacks, the Ravens could use a pass rusher like defensive end Joey Bosa of Ohio St. However, the Ravens’ victory over the Steelers on Sunday likely ruined any chance the Ravens (5-10) had to draft Bosa.

Random Bytes

Possible head coaches with most to gain -- and lose
There will be more vacant NFL coaching positions as the season comes to a close. Find out which candidates are the hottest commodities. Number one on the list is Hue Jackson, the Bengals' offensive coordinator.

Bleacher Report's 2015 NFL Awards
As difficult as it may be to believe, we've nearly reached the end of the line—both for 2015 and another regular season in the National Football League. And what a season it's been. The Carolina Panthers became only the third team in NFL history to start a season 14-0 before falling in Atlanta on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs became only the second NFL team to start a campaign 1-5 and make the playoffs.

Bill Belichick defends Chip Kelly, says a lot of ex-Eagles not 'doing too much'
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick put his public support behind former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, as well as the overall coaching profession, early Thursday morning. The Eagles fired Kelly on Tuesday after three seasons.

Breaking down the NFC North title game: Packers vs. Vikings at Lambeau
For the third straight season, the Green Bay Packers will play for the NFC North title in the regular-season finale. In 2013, they beat the Chicago Bears on the road in Aaron Rodgers' return from his broken collarbone to take the division. Last year, they beat the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field to win it.

Robert Griffin III, Sean Payton head guys who need a fresh start
As we head into a brand new year, it's time to identify those NFL individuals who need a brand new start. Call it The Schein Nine: New Year's Edition! Here's our annual list of the players and coaches who really could use a change of scenery in 2016

Cam Newton, Carson Palmer top list of MVP candidates
As the season wraps up this week, it's time to revisit the MVP picture. Below are Around The NFL's top 10 candidates for 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player. Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton all make the list.