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A preview and prediction for the Ravens' finale against the Bengals

A preview and prediction for the Ravens' finale against the Bengals

What: Ravens (8-7) at Bengals (5-9-1)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

Ravens injuries:

OUT – ILB Zach Orr (neck, IR), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle, IR), RT Rick Wagner (concussion)

QUESTIONABLE – G Alex Lewis (ankle)

Bengals injuries:

OUT – WR A. J. Green (hamstring), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)

DOUBTFUL – LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle)

QUESTIONABLE – RB Jeremy Hill (knee)

Five questions to ask:

1. Can the Ravens escape their last game without serious injuries?

Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, coach John Harbaugh said he would play starters and play to win. The Ravens have been relatively healthy this season. Hopefully it stays that way.

2. How will Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. end his brilliant 16-year career?

The Ravens want Smith’s last game to be special, and so does he. Look for plenty of targets to come his way. A perfect day for the Ravens would be big game for Smith, and a victory.

3. How many Ravens players and coaches will be somewhere else next season?

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk are among the Ravens’ free agents-to-be. The Ravens could decide to part with veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who needs two sacks to reach 100 for his career. Will Marty Mornhinweg return as offensive coordinator? There is always turnover during an NFL offseason, and after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, the Ravens will have tough decisions to make.

4. Can the Ravens snap their five-game road losing streak?

The Ravens’ inability to win on the road after September cost them a playoff spot. There is nothing wrong with setting a different tone for 2017 by winning this game.  

5. Will the Ravens end their losing streak in Cincinnati?

The Ravens haven’t won in Cincinnati since 2011. Regardless of the circumstances, that is something they want to change.

PREDICTION:

Without Green, and probably Burfict, the Bengals are not as imposing as they would be at full strength, with something to play for. The emotion surrounding Smith Sr.’s farewell should be enough to carry the Ravens to victory.

Ravens 20, Bengals 16

MORE RAVENS: THE TEAM'S FAREWELL VIDEO FOR STEVE SMITH SR. IS WORTH A WATCH

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

Former Ravens and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement from coaching Monday afternoon, just a day after Tennessee lost in the AFC Championship Game to Kansas City.

Pees, at age 70, had just finished his 47th year of coaching. He had previously been a coordinator for the Titans, Ravens and Patriots at the NFL level. He began coaching at the University of Findlay (OH) in 1979 as a defensive coordinator where he rose through the college ranks. 

Pees was in Baltimore from 2010-2017, where he started as a linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. He won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.

During his time as a coordinator, the Ravens ranked in the top 10 of scoring defenses three times, where he saw franchise greats like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed end their careers.

Pees’ defense in Tennessee this season stiffened down the stretch, as it allowed just 25 total points in the first two playoff games against New England and Baltimore. The Titans lost 35-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, Pees led his defenses to a top 12 finish in points allowed.

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