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Bengals at Ravens Game Preview: The circling buzzards

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Marvin Lewis’ Bengals are in do-or-die mode and, as luck would have it, Cincinnati’s head man taps into his early coaching roots for a possible 2016 turnaround.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

With the Cincinnati Bengals struggling at 3-6-1 this year, there’s trepidation when considering the upcoming Week 12 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. A road game with the host being the possible AFC North leader after this Sunday as a start to a stretch where Cincinnati needs to essentially win out? Oh boy.

Still, when you look at recent history, it might actually be just the type of game for the Bengals to start a miraculous comeback. In the six games played between the two teams from 2013-2015, Cincinnati is 5-1, with their only loss being an overtime one in Baltimore back in 2014. To boot, Marvin Lewis, a former defensive coordinator for the Ravens from 1996-2001, has had success against his former employers while heading up the Bengals with a 16-10 record against the Ravens.

But, given what has transpired in the past six games between the two squads, we also know to expect the unexpected.

Last year was an extremely disappointing campaign for John Harbaugh’s squad, mostly because of the ridiculous amount of injuries the team had to endure. They’re healthier this year and sit at 5-5 in an uncharacteristically weak year for the AFC North.

The Bengals win and they’re back in the division picture, which is likely the only way Pittsburgh, Baltimore or Cincinnati will make the postseason this year because of the strength of the AFC West. They lose, and it’s on to looking at the 2017 NFL Draft.

One of the signs of a resurgence in Baltimore is their stance atop the defensive standings this year. They’re second in the league in total yards allowed per game, first against the run and seventh against the pass. However, these stats may have been padded by two games against the winless Browns and other struggling teams like the Jaguars and Jets.

Even so, it doesn’t make for an easy day for the Bengals’ struggling offense. Though they’re 11th in running the football this year, Giovani Bernard has torn his ACL, taking away the hydra attack between he and Jeremy Hill. It’s on the offensive line, Hill and Rex Burkhead to continue one of the only solid outputs of Ken Zampese’s unit.

As big of a loss as it is for Bernard to now be on Injured Reserve, A.J. Green’s hamstring injury is a total game-changer. In that 5-1 span against Baltimore from the Bengals since 2013, Green played in five of those contests with 32 catches for 604 yards and six touchdowns. Though the Bengals were able to achieve a win without Green back in 2014, to say he’ll be missed this week is an understatement of epic proportions.

While it looks bleak this Sunday for the Bengals to pull out a win without Green, that 2014 win showed us more. Remember, that team was also without Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert all season, and it took Andy Dalton using receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Greg Little to get the win.

One other factor that has traditionally played in the Bengals’ advantage has been Andrew Whitworth’s handling of Terrell Suggs. He and other line mates have struggled against Baltimore’s smaller pass-rushers, but No. 55 has largely been taken out of the equation under No. 77’s watch.

Still, the Bengals’ new group of receivers needs to show that their inability to get open downfield last week without Green was a fluke. Rookie Tyler Boyd made some nice catches against Buffalo, but he and Brandon LaFell just couldn’t shake coverage on long-developing pass plays, leading to pressure and sacks. It’s kind of been an unfortunate theme to the offense this year.

Zampese and his players share the blame for the offense’s inconsistency this year. Whether it’s questionable play-calling and/or improper execution by players, it has been a major factor to the disappointing campaign. However, given what we’ve seen from this group of pass-catchers, shouldn’t the game-plan be altered to a more run-oriented offense with quick-hitting passes to remedy the pass protection issues?

On defense, the Bengals should have a favorable matchup against the Ravens’ pedestrian 2016 offense. Joe Flacco’s crew is ranked No. 17 in pass yards per game, while also struggling to run the ball effectively (27th). Cincinnati’s defense was stout against the pass last week, but the Bills ran through them at Paul Brown Stadium.

There are scenarios that exist for the Bengals making the playoffs this year, mostly because the Bengals have four division games in the six left on the schedule. If there is any hope of the team going on an improbable roll, it starts this Sunday in Baltimore.

Bengals 17, Ravens 23

AC — Bring on the offseason.