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Week 17 Bengals vs Ravens: 5 key Cincinnati players to watch on Sunday

Due to the loss last week, the Bengals' Week 17 showdown with Baltimore could potentially have huge ramifications if they can get a little help from San Diego.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

I think I can speak for all Bengals fans when I say I was hoping this game would be meaningless for the Bengals. However, we didn't get our collective Christmas wish this year, and the Week 17 matchup with Baltimore will be incredibly important if the Chargers can pull off an upset against the Denver Broncos. The Chargers beating the Broncos is far more of a long shot than the Bengals taking down a battered Baltimore Ravens team though.

The Ravens' offense is led by a three-headed non-monster comprised of Ryan Mallett, Javorius Allen, and Kamar Aiken. That isn't exactly what nightmares are comprised of, and the Bengals' defense should be able to shut down the Ravens' offense. Mallett did have a good enough game last week to outscore the Steelers in their most disappointing effort this year (not disappointing to us though). If you remember back, Mike Brown wanted to draft Mallett over Andy Dalton, Mallett is also known as the guy who needs this for an alarm clock.

On the defensive side, an experienced and talented group remains, despite the early loss of Terrell Suggs. The Ravens actually give up slightly fewer yards per game than Cincinnati, but far more points. Part of that is likely due to the offense often putting them in bad situations this year. While Andy Dalton aired them out for 383 yards earlier this year, I would not expect to see AJ McCarron do the same.

1) Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard

The Bengals are going to need one of their running backs to have a good game on Sunday. December 13th was the last time either of them averaged more than 3.3 yards per carry, and that was Bernard doing so with 40 yards on six carries. It doesn't take a genius to know that if the Bengals have to rely on McCarron to throw the ball all over the place on Sunday, their chances for winning decrease, as well as their already slim chances for a first round bye. I don't want to live in a world where the Broncos lose to San Diego while Cincinnati drops a gimme to Baltimore. Running the ball effectively would nearly make that impossible.

2) Tyler Eifert

He said he's playing. McCarron seems to have built a pretty good rapport with Tyler Kroft, so having an even more talented version of Kroft in the lineup should be a big boost. Big tight ends are always known to be a quarterback's best friend, and I would expect McCarron to look in Eifert's direction early and often.

3) Mohamed Sanu

The designated gadget/screen/tough yards getter hasn't done a ton since Andy Dalton went down, and he usually isn't asked to. However, against a still tough Ravens' defense, his versatility may be needed to give a somewhat stagnant offense a shot in the arm. Even when lined up in the backfield, Sanu has looked to be a more decisive runner than Jeremy Hill at times, while simultaneously keeping the defense on their toes. If Sanu can find a way to impact the game, that's less weight that will need to be carried by a backup quarterback and an underperforming running game.

4) Kevin Zeitler

It's no secret that the Bengals prefer to run right, and Zeitler is by far the most talented player on that side of the line. But that's not why I'm listing him here. I'm listing him here because he is stuck between Andre Smith and Russell Bodine, and I know better than to hope they have great games. Instead, Zeitler will need to step up and help his counterparts, specifically in pass protection, and keep the likes of Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan from collapsing the pocket and perhaps keep Elvis Dumervil from sprinting around Andre Smith.

5) Adam Jones

You might be thinking, "Oh, Alex finally picked a defensive player." You'd be right in black-and-white terms, but Pacman is not on this list because of his play at cornerback. If you can't tell, I have much more faith in the Bengals' defense than I do the offense right now. I have a feeling that points may come at a premium this week, and Jones' impact in the return game could be much needed if the Bengals are averaging two yards per carry once again. A big return giving the Bengals' offense a short field, or even a return finding paydirt will go a long ways to ensuring the Bengals can put up enough points to earn the victory. The Bengals have yet to score on a return this year, it would be nice to do it in the final game of the 2015-2016 regular season.

Honorable Mention: Mike Nugent

If points are at a premium, you always need your kicker to earn them when the opportunity arises.