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4 things to watch for in Bengals game vs. Vikings

The Cincinnati Bengals will try to snap a two-game losing skid Sunday when they travel to Minnesota, where they have never won in five previous trips.

If the Vikings, who are in first place in the NFC North Division at 10-3 and favored by 10.5 points, are victorious, they will send the Bengals (5-8) to their second three-game losing streak of the season, which is something that hasn’t happened since 2008.

The Bengals are looking to bounce back from an ugly 33-7 loss to Chicago, while the Vikings are hoping to rebound from a 31-24 setback at Carolina that snapped the team’s eight-game winning streak.

Minnesota is 5-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium this season and 10-4 since it opened last year, and can clinch the division title with a victory.

The Bengals are 4-10 in their last 14 road games, and that mark includes nine consecutive losses against teams with a winning record.

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Here are five things to watch for in Sunday’s game:

Linebacker lineup

Last week the Chicago running backs exploited a depleted and inexperienced linebacker group for 232 rushing yards.

The Vikings, who rank eighth in rushing offense, could do even more damage against an even further depleted group that won’t have starting middle linebacker Kevin Minter after the Bengals placed him on season-ending injured reserve on Thursday.

Cincinnati will take the field with four healthy linebackers, three of whom are rookies, including two who weren’t drafted.

Like Chicago, Pittsburgh exploited the middle of the field once Vontaze Burfict went out with a concussion early in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. The physical nature of that Monday night game plus the short turnaround didn’t give defensive coordinator Paul Guenther much time to prep for the Bears.

›› Bengals to be without three starting linebackers vs. Vikings

But he’s known since the start of this full week of practice he wouldn’t have Minter, Burfict or Nick Vigil, so it will be interesting to see how he schemes against the Vikings. The Bengals could elect to stay in nickel most of the game and go with Vinny Rey and Jordan Evans as the only linebackers.

College free agent Hardy Nickerson has played just 21 snaps this season and struggled on most of them, and Brandon Bell, another college free agent whom the Bengals added to the 53-man roster to fill Minter’s vacancy, will be making his NFL debut.

The team also could use defensive end Carl Lawson at linebacker. The rookie split his reps between end and linebacker in OTAs and a little bit in training camp, and he spent time with both groups during position drills at practice during the week.

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Special attention

Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is hoping the only yellow he sees in Minnesota is the trim on the Vikings uniforms.

Last week against Chicago, the Bengals committed two penalties on special teams in the first 2 minutes and 54 seconds, continuing a problem that has plagued the group all season due to the constant changes Simmons has to deal with due to an injury-ravished roster.

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The Bengals have committed 19 accepted penalties on special teams, which is tied for third in the NFL. And those flags have cost the team 167 yards, third most in the league.

Seven of the penalties have come in the last two games. The Bengals drew four flags on special teams against the Bears six days after committing four against the Steelers, although only three were enforced because two occurred on the same play.

Facing the past

Lewis will try to keep alive his streak of never losing to one of his former assistants when he faces Mike Zimmer, who was Bengals defensive coordinator 2008-13.

Lewis is 6-0-1 against former assistants, including 3-0 this season with a pair of victories against Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns and a Week 11 win at Denver.

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The Cincinnati streak of not losing to former coaches actually pre-dates Lewis, going back to 1996 when the Bengals beat former assistant coach Lindy Infante and the Colts. The Bengals beat Infante and the Colts again in 1997, so it’s been nine consecutive games in which the team has failed to lose to a former coach.

The last coach to leave the Bengals and later beat them as a head coach was Sam Wyche, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored a 19-16 win in 1995, four years after his eight-year run as Bengals head coach had ended.

There have been 27 instances in which a former Cincinnati assistant or head coach has faced the team as a head coach elsewhere, and the Bengals are 16-10-1 in those games.

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Milestone markers

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has 22 career 300-yard passing games, one shy of Boomer Esiason’s team record.

Wide receiver A.J. Green has 31 career 100-yard games, tied with Chad Johnson for the team record.

›› Bengals sign former Falcons safety to practice squad

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap needs a half sack to move into sole possession of second place on the team’s all-time list. He’s currently tied with Reggie Williams with 62.5 sacks.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins needs a half sack to move into sole possession of fourth place on the team’s all-time list. His 59 sacks are tied with Ross Browner.

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