Week 17 is usually a time to rest starters, for teams that have an idea where they’ll end up in the postseason. This isn’t a luxury for the Bengals. Cincinnati is still in the running for a first round bye and No. 2 seed. It would be nice to avoid injuries by giving the main men a break. But with the magnitude of this game, the Bengals really shouldn’t think of sitting the starters.
The Ravens have already stated that the Bengals aren’t going to sweep them. They know that Cincinnati is still trying to get some time for Andy Dalton’s thumb to heal. That turns into a formula for a brutal game with a division rival that wants to spoil the desires of a playoff bound opponent. The action is bound to be fast and furious.
The Bengals have won four straight games against the Ravens and they are fully aware of the skid. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, per the Baltimore Ravens website, makes it plain and simple. They want to beat the Bengals.
“Really? Are you sure? Is it four?” Smith questioned. “Is the rivalry switching? I don’t know, I don’t know. I kind of hate the Bengals. … They’re the bully right now. We’ve got to go fight back and win this game.”
When it comes to winning the game Sunday, the Bengals are going to be in for a big test. Because of the loss to Denver, the Bengals now need help from their NFL brethren, to get the bye week they need. The team from Baltimore knows the deal and they’re ready to make the road harder for the Bengals. They were overlooked by the Steelers and came away with an upset over the surging Pittsburgh gang.
Sitting the starters wouldn’t be productive for AJ McCarron. In his third start for the Bengals, McCarron needs to get as many reps with the starters as possible. Week 17 features the return of Tyler Eifert. The Bengals need to get him as much playing time as possible, without risking injury. Tyler Kroft has made some nice plays in his absence. But the chemistry has to be there for the second-year signal-caller and the main weapons.
According to Pro Football Reference, Baltimore kept Eifert without a catch, in Week 3. That should give the star tight end some motivation to stay in the game. That was also the game in which a controversial non-touchdown play helped the Bengals get national attention.
Getting McCarron time with the starters is huge, as the Bengals move into the playoffs. Dalton is expected to have more information on his fractured thumb Monday and have the cast removed. Even if it can be taken off, Dalton still has to go through rehab to hold and throw a football.
A Bengals “W” against the Ravens would also put to rest the perception of Cincinnati’s inability to win in big games. A loss, in Sunday’s matchup, won’t knock the Bengals from the playoffs. But a victory will do tons for McCarron’s confidence.
The series between the Ravens and Bengals has gotten close, in the past years. With a Bengals win, they would even the all-time series at 20-20. Marvin Lewis would also have his best season as head coach, with a Bengals sweep.
Having so much to play for, Bengals starters may be seeing more time on the field. Linebacker Rey Maualuga is ready to get the job done for Lewis.
“This would be the best record Marvin’s had since he’s been here, so what a way to bring in the New Year,” Maualuga said. “To give him that 12th win. I think everyone’s ready for the challenge. We have the right tools and the right pieces to get that done on Sunday.”
One of the starters is ready to do what has to done.
[Feature Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]