Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups in Ravens Week 17 Contest with Bengals

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Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups in Ravens Week 17 Contest with Bengals
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Green and James Ihedigbo go up for a pass during Week 10 of this season.

The Baltimore Ravens look to rebound in Week 17 after a 41-7 drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots last week.

By failing to win their fifth straight game, the Ravens no longer control their own destiny for the playoffs and must rely on some help across the AFC.

In addition to Baltimore (8-7), the three other teams vying for the final wild-card spot include the Miami Dolphins (8-7), San Diego Chargers (8-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8).

Although the reigning Super Bowl champions hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami and San Diego, they will be watching from home if both of those teams win on Sunday.

Baltimore needs a win and a loss from either the Dolphins or Chargers to maintain its consecutive streak of playoff berths since 2008.

The Ravens head to Cincinnati to face a Bengals team they already beat in Week 10 on the leg of Justin Tucker in overtime, following a Hail Mary touchdown to A.J. Green at the end of regulation.

The stakes are slightly different this time around. 

While the Ravens obviously need a win, the Bengals are playing for a possible No. 2 seed and a bye with a victory and a New England Patriots loss.

Week 17 always seems to provide a host of possibilities and an exciting finish to the season.

In order for Baltimore to be on the right side of history in 2013, here are four matchups that will be critical for their success and any chance at a playoff appearance.

 

OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Anthony Collins

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Terrell Suggs tackles Andy Dalton during the teams' previous matchup this year.

While Terrell Suggs lines up all over the field, he was predominantly over left tackle Andrew Whitworth in the Ravens' first meeting against the Bengals in Week 10.

Since then, Whitworth has shifted to left guard and Anthony Collins has come off the bench to provide Cincinnati a completely different look for quarterback Andy Dalton on the blind side.

Since the switch was made in Week 13 against the Chargers, the Bengals have gone 3-1. They've averaged 259 passing yards, 114 rushing yards and less than one sack allowed.

If the Ravens intend to defeat their division rival, Suggs will need to adjust to new left tackle Collins. When facing Whitworth earlier this year, Baltimore's sack leader (10) only recorded four tackles and zero sacks.

 

CB Jimmy Smith vs. WR A.J. Green

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy Smith has 49 tackles and 41 passes defended this season.

Let's be honest, A.J. Green is to the Bengals what Calvin Johnson is to the Detroit Lions.

Green is, by far, Cincinnati's leading receiving target with 1,365 yards. He also leads the team with 10 touchdowns and has a club record five straight games with over 100 receiving yards from earlier this season.

Jimmy Smith will likely be tasked with stopping the Bengals' top receiver and has a solid track record this year in doing so.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith is the 22nd-ranked cornerback in the NFL, just above Lardarius Webb for the Ravens, who is tied for 25th.

Baltimore's greatest strength this year has been its defense. That remains true for this season finale, especially in the secondary against a team that just shredded the Minnesota Vikings for 348 yards through the air.

 

WR Jacoby Jones vs. CB Adam "Pacman" Jones

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Jacoby Jones will be key in the Ravens matchup against the Bengals.

Jacoby Jones will need to play a large role in Sunday's matchup against the Bengals in order for the Ravens to come away with a victory.

A thigh injury to Torrey Smith has limited the No. 1 receiver in practice, and he is currently listed as questionable. That places an increased onus on Jones, who has 36 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns.

Back when these two teams faced each other in Week 10, Jones only recorded two catches for 17 yards. Last week's performance against the Patriots was equally pedestrian, with one reception for 11 yards.

Jones will have his hands full with Adam "Pacman" Jones, who has stepped up with injuries across the Bengals secondary. The embattled cornerback has three interceptions on the season, including one return for a touchdown.

 

TE Dennis Pitta vs. MLB Rey Maualuga

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Dennis Pitta sat out most of the season until being activated from injured reserve for Week 14.

Since returning to the Ravens in Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, Dennis Pitta has immediately stepped in as a reliable target for Joe Flacco.

In the snowy affair against the Vikings, Pitta hauled in six receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown. Although he hasn't recorded a score since, that could change in the final week of the regular season.

Rey Maualuga has struggled for the Bengals at the "Mike" this season, ranking 44th out of 55 inside linebackers, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

His pass coverage has been an Achilles heel for Cincinnati, ranking dead last in 2012 under the same ranking system. 

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will likely mix up his defensive packages, with Maualuga having multiple responsibilities throughout the game. With that said, the Ravens are still best served calling plays with Pitta dragging across the middle. 

Expect a tight contest in this divisional matchup, with Pitta potentially being the game-changer. Given the Ravens struggles running the ball, there should be a few red-zone targets coming his way.

 

All statistics courtesy of NFL.com, unless otherwise noted.

Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+

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