Ravens at Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in Sunday’s season finale

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) is able to sack Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) in spite of being blocked by Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown (78) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) is able to sack Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) in spite of being blocked by Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown (78) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Bengals have a knack for ending on a high note. They’ve won eight straight home regular-season finales and 12 finales in a row when entering with a losing record.

Now, the Bengals (4-10-1) look to continue that trend when they host the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) to finish off the 2020 season Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati, which enters on a two-game winning streak, also has a chance to potentially keep the Ravens from the playoffs, something the Bengals did in the 2017 finale in Baltimore. The Ravens are in with a win but would need help with a loss or tie.

Here are five storylines to watch Sunday:

1. Much at stake

The Bengals want to keep their momentum going into the offseason, as wins can be a morale boost for 2021 as the organization builds belief in what Zac Taylor is doing. A chance to play the role of a spoiler makes the game a little more fun.

Pittsburgh already clinched the AFC North, but Baltimore and Cleveland still are in the playoff hunt at 10-5. Both are in with wins, but if the Ravens lose to Cincinnati, they need the Browns to lose to the Steelers or for Indianapolis to lose. There are four scenarios where Baltimore can get in with a tie as well – if either Miami or Tennessee lose or if Cleveland or Indianapolis finish with a tie.

A win for the Bengals would mean they got two division wins in their last three games, following a Monday Night Football win over Pittsburgh in Week 15.

“That would be great because we get to spoil somebody’s playoff hopes,” defensive end Carl Lawson said. “That’s the goal, of course. But yeah, I mean, it’s good to win, man. That junk felt so good. When you go through heartbreak… Because we put so much into this. I know fans hate seeing us lose, too. But to get a win, man, it just meant the world. I didn’t care about anything other than that. Because I’m just like, why are you even doing it if you don’t get the end result? And then when you finally hit gold, it’s like ‘(On) Monday Night Football, what?!’ Ah, man. That felt good. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. We’ve been through a lot so we really want to get a win.”

Several players also are trying to put good performances on film heading into the offseason with contracts expiring. Lawson is one of them.

2. Records within reach

Wide receiver A.J. Green can move into a shared first on the franchise’s all-time touchdown receptions list with one more score, and Tee Higgins needs one more catch to take sole possession of the Bengals’ rookie receptions record.

Green is currently second on the franchise’s all-time receiving touchdowns list at 65 and needs just one to tie Chad Johnson or two to take sole ownership of the record. He downplayed how much he is thinking of that record but it could be especially significant if Sunday ends up being his last in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform.

Last week, Higgins tied Cris Collinsworth as the franchise leader for most catches as a rookie. Collinsworth finished the 1981 season with 67 receptions.

“Hopefully he gets a handful more catches and yards and he can be up there as the best rookie receiver the Bengals have had,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “That would be a pretty cool honor for him, to come out of the gates as a rookie like that.”

Higgins also is just 92 yards receiving away from reaching the 1,000 yards milestone, a mark Boyd was on track to meet for a third straight year before a concussion forced him out of the Week 15 win over Pittsburgh in the first half and caused him to miss last week’s win at Houston.

Boyd has been cleared to return to play Sunday, but he needs 160 yards receiving to get to 1,000. Higgins was limited by a hamstring issue this week but considered a “full participant” after Friday’s walkthrough and is expected to play.

3. Ravens on the run

Baltimore beat Cincinnati 27-3 in Week 5 despite Lamar Jackson -- the league’s best rushing quarterback -- recording just 3 yards on two carries.

The Bengals had a solid game plan for shutting down the perimeter, where Jackson normally breaks free, but the Ravens still finished with 161 yards rushing with the help of two carries of more than 30 yards by other players. Baltimore leads the league in net rushing offense with 177.8 yards rushing per game, and Jackson leads the team with 908 yards rushing.

Running backs Gus Edwards (663 yards rushing) was limited in practice Friday because of a back injury and is questionable, but J.K. Dobbins (645 yards) and Mark Ingram (260 yards) should be available. Ingram missed practice early in the week because of illness but was a full participant Friday.

Cincinnati has shown improvement against the run in general (ranked 25th while allowing 130.9 rushing yards per game), and linebacker Josh Bynes said it helps that the Bengals have seen a lot of jet sweeps that resemble what Baltimore does with the option. However, staying disciplined with assignment football will be important for stopping the Ravens.

The Bengals will be without cornerback William Jackson (concussion) and linebacker Logan Wilson (ankle).

4. Turnover factor

The Ravens are tied for 12th in the league in turnover margin at plus-3, and takeaways by the Ravens defense were a key factor the first matchup with the Bengals.

Cincinnati had three turnovers in that game, including a Mike Thomas fumble after a catch that Patrick Queen returned 53 yards for a touchdown. Joe Burrow also lost a fumble on a sack in the second quarter and was intercepted once.

The Bengals have played clean football the last two games, turning the ball over zero times in a pair of wins after struggling with turnovers the first three possessions in a loss against Dallas in Week 14. The defense also has been making big plays – causing three takeaways against Pittsburgh and although there was just one against Houston, it was a key one. Sam Hubbard killed Houston’s last full drive by forcing a fumble on a strip sack of Deshaun Watson, and Margus Hunt recovered in mid-air.

5. Moving the ball on Baltimore

Baltimore’s defense obviously made things difficult on the Bengals’ offense the first time around, but Taylor seems to be dialing it up a notch in his playcalling in recent weeks so it will be interesting to see how he attacks the Ravens this time.

Brandon Allen is coming off a career performance at Houston when he threw for 371 yards, and the Bengals have rushed for 321 yards combined over the last two games with the help of more consistency on the offensive line.

The Ravens rank second in the league in third-down defense, allowing conversions on just 35.2 percent of those situations.

The Ravens were missing defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue (tight) and Derek Wolfe (not injury related) from practice Friday and both are questionable. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder) also has been limited and is questionable. Defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters were listed as questionable but were full participants in practice Friday.

TODAY’S GAME

Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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