In a pre-playoff, playoff-defining game, 10 key players will take the national stage under the microscope of only the second sell-out game of the season in Cincinnati.
One team has been reborn under the leadership of youth nation; the other has been maligned as under-achieving veterans.
One coach is the former architect of the latter's original defensive foundation. The other is the upstart older brother of the up-and-coming young coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Be it Lewis on one of the top five defenses in the league or Lewis on the sideline of yet another successful rebuilding project in Cincinnati, there are several key participants to watch on New Year's Day 2012.
Big red-haired Andy Dalton has led the Bengals from the precipice of irrelevance to the cusp of a playoff berth. Dalton has helped defined the Bengals as a team first and individuals second.
Through 15 games, Dalton has completed 58.9 percent of his passes (278 of 472) for 3,166 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns against 13 interceptions for an 81.8 passer's rating.
Facing a team that had similar circumstances with a rookie quarterback (who is now the veteran the Bengals will face on Sunday), the mantle may be decidedly passed.
Sporting a Fu Manchu, Joe Flacco entered the league as an upstart rookie in 2008, leading the Ravens to an electrifying 11-win, five-loss campaign.
Flacco enters Sunday's contest with an 11-4 record, having completed 56.8 percent of his passes (297-for-523), amounting to 3,480 passing yards with 19 passing touchdowns against 12 interceptions for a 79.7 passer's rating.
Some say Flacco simply has hit his peak and might be in decline, but that would be wrong to assume in the toughest defensive division in the NFL.
One would be wise to pay close attention to Ray Lewis, the benchmark of the Ravens defense. Despite missing four games due to injury, Lewis leads the team in tackles with 67 along with 21 assists, two sacks, two forced fumbles (two fumbles recovered) and an interception.
At age 36, Lewis was voted to his 13th Pro Bowl this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals defensive quarterback (the unofficial equivalent on defense when defining the middle linebacker position), Maualuga has also seen three games missed to injury time.
Nevertheless, Rey ranks third on the team for tackles at 49 to go along with 30 assists, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovered and one interception.
A testament to the defensive line, Maualuga has not been needed to roll up on the quarterback for sacks and only shows upside as the successor of Keith Rivers and Troy Polamalu at USC.
Sporting a low center of gravity translating into being the most dangerous Ravens weapon, Ray Rice is extremely versatile. Over 15 games, Rice has 267 rushing attempts for 1,173 rushing yards, 74 receptions for 696 receiving yards, 10 rushing and three receiving touchdowns (he has even thrown for a touchdown this season).
The Bengals' key to success will be to neutralize Rice, especially with the Ravens missing top receiver Anquan Boldin due to injury.
Jekyll or Hyde? That seems to be the question Benson is facing coming into Week 17. Benson has not seen the volume of success (in terms of yardage) against the Ravens like he did during his first full season in 2009 (2 100-plus yard games and two touchdowns). In the first matchup in Baltimore, Benson did have two rushing touchdowns, though only 41 yards on 15 carries.
Yet as late as Week 14, despite Benson and the Bengals ground attack not living up to the anticipated (though thankfully unfounded) needed to support the rookie quarterback, Cedric had been dependable to protect the ball. Having carried the ball 222 times over 13 games, Benson had not once fumbled the ball while building up 883 yards on the ground resulting in five touchdowns.
Enter St. Louis, and Benson fumbled three times (losing none) and then two times on two pivotal carries in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals game last week to nearly blow the game entirely.
Which Benson will show up this week, and can the Ravens exploit the negatives that Cedric has seemingly brought forth as of late?
Leaping over the competition and making spectacular plays while certainly displaying anything but the demeanor of the aforementioned compared to the player has Green entering the Pro Bowl his first year in the league.
Over 14 games, Green has amassed 63 receptions for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns, in the process eclipsing the previous franchise rookie receiving yardage record held by legendary Bengal (and present Emmy award-winning annoucer) Chris Collinsworth.
Green has also been a threat on the reverse, compiling five runs for 53 yards, one of which went for 22 yards alone.
The Ravens will be looking to shut Green down in order to put pressure on Dalton and the other less heralded Bengals receivers.
The interception leader of Ravens, Ladarius Webb will likely be the primary cornerback facing A.J. Green (likely with help).
Sporting five interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 54 tackles, 10 assisted tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble gives this formidable defender a very extensive resume to be respected.
Expect the Ravens to fully exercise using Webb to frustrate Dalton and the Bengals.
Somersaulting over the competition (literally) and sticking a near-perfect landing in the end zone re-established Simpson as being the much-heralded, under-achieving Bengals receiver.
Like Cedric Benson, Jerome Simpson tends to show up in ebbs and flows for games. One can never be sure which Simpson will show up. Additionally, Simpson also shares another less glamorous attribute in that he has become mired in off-the-field distractions.
Sporting 45 receptions, 671 yards and four touchdowns is nothing to laugh at, but the Ravens might not have to worry if Simpson cannot muster his A-game.
Last time the Bengals faced Suggs in November, there was little impact other than Terrell's formidable presence (only three tackles and two assists). Yet Suggs is no push over, and while Andre Smith held Terrell in check for the most part, getting that lucky a second time against a veteran with 13 sacks, 46 tackles, 18 assisted tackles and two interceptions is unlikely.
Andy Dalton will need his blind and front side protected (as well as scrambling ability) with earnest, especially with Suggs breathing down his neck.
Even though these 10 players have clear storylines, there are plenty of others to watch:
Ravens safety Pro Bowler Ed Reed with three interceptions, one forced fumble, 42 tackles, four assisted tackles and one quarterback sack.
Bengals unheralded linebacker Thomas Howard with 61 tackles, 33 assisted tackles, one sack, seven tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Ravens receiving threat Torrey Smith, who has 45 receptions for 808 yards and seven touchdowns.
Bengals tight end second year phenom Jermaine Gresham, who has 51 receptions and 524 receiving yards for six touchdowns.
The list goes on, and likely, one or two will emerge on game day to join the AFC North legacy, so stay tuned.