Week 17 of this season will be an interesting game to watch for Bengals fans. For some, the fanfare has been taken out of the finale against the Ravens because of a handful of Bengals stars being out of the lineup, but it’s also a good way to get a glimpse at some of Cincinnati’s talented youngsters.
Here are the biggest keys for the Bengals’ quest to getting a win against Baltimore at home in Week 17.
Youngsters growing up fast:
The unfortunate part of seeing a season finale for a non-playoff team is the fact that some players might be auditioning for jobs elsewhere. Because of injuries to Tyler Eifert, Clint Boling, Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Green and others, many young Bengals players are getting a shot at some extensive playing time on Sunday.
On one hand, it’s a refreshing change of scenery for a Marvin Lewis-led team, as preference towards playing veterans has been the norm. But, players like Jake Kumerow, Nick Vigil, and Jake Fisher will all be taking on big roles this week. The Ravens have the No. 5-ranked defense and are No. 2 against the run, so the young players on offense will need to show massive maturity.
Rex Burkhead auditioning for a prominent 2016 role:
The longtime No. 3 running back on the Bengals’ roster has been impressing since Giovani Bernard went down with a season-ending knee injury and with Jeremy Hill looking like he also won’t play this Sunday, Burkhead’s role will be quite prominent. As he approaches free agency this spring, Burkhead has shown the ability to run and catch at a high level as a pro.
If the Bengals are to come out victorious on Sunday, Burkhead will need to excel in both facets against a tenacious Baltimore defense. Additionally, he’ll need to step up as a pass protector when called upon, which was an area in which Bernard aided the offense.
A big day from Brandon LaFell:
It may seem like a total contradiction to the first point, but LaFell will be the lone veteran presence among the receiver and tight end groups this Sunday. While he’s had some games with minimal production, he has stepped up in recent weeks with Green out of the lineup.
With three games tallying more than 90 yards receiving in the past five weeks, LaFell will need to carry a very inexperienced receiving corps this Sunday. It looks as if Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith might not play, so LaFell could find some room against the Baltimore secondary.
Find a way to pressure Joe Flacco:
Some of the best performances by the Bengals against the Ravens have come when their defensive front has hit Flacco often. The big-armed Baltimore quarterback isn’t the most nimble of signal-callers, so if the Bengals can get past Ravens’ offensive line, they should be able to get him to the ground.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a banner year up front for Cincinnati. Geno Atkins made the Pro Bowl, but he’s been the most consistent pass-rusher from the Bengals this year. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has had some big games against Baltimore in the past, so it would be great to see him dominate once again.
Perfect day from special teams:
It’s been an extremely tough year for Darrin Simmons’ crew. When the return game wasn’t working well, a kicker missed vital attempts, and vice-versa. In short, the Bengals’ special teams crew has cost the team both points and victories this year.
Randy Bullock missed a game-winning field goal last week, but Alex Erickson has started to emerge as an impressive returner, with a bright future. Unlike other groups on the Bengals in a disappointing 2016 season, all of the parts will need to finally play well all at the same time should the Bengals end the year on a high note.