Take away the two defining players from the Bengals-Ravens series over the last several years and now it's really tough to make a call on Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Baltimore. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (hip) didn't practice Thursday, they haven't all week and it's probable they'll be ruled either out or doubtful on Friday.
Green has bludgeoned the Ravens since he beat them in the 2014 opener on a 77-yard bomb from quarterback Andy Dalton with 4:58 left in a come-from-behind win. In his last six games against Baltimore the Bengals are 5-1 and Green has seven TDs to go with a 227-yard game, a 137-yard game and a three-TD game. The Hat Trick Game came in the second game of this season and included five catches for 69 yards. Green has missed three games against the Ravens in that stretch and the Bengals are 2-1.
Meanwhile, Flacco continued to struggle against the Bengals in that 34-23 loss at Paul Brown Stadium back on Sept. 13 in a Thursday night game. He completed 32 of 55 passes for 376 yards, two TDs, two picks and they again turned him into Captain Checkdown on 6.8 yards per throw. He's thrown 25 career interceptions against the Bengals, as many as he's thrown combined against the Steelers and Browns.
But now it looks like it's going to be Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd and rookie Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson stepping into those roles. It would be Jackson's first NFL start, but not Boyd's first rodeo in Baltimore or against the Ravens. Last year he and Andy Dalton silenced the place on their 49-yard TD with 44 seconds left on fourth-and-12 to knock Baltimore out of the playoffs with a career-high 91 yards and back in September Boyd matched that 91 against them. Since then he's had two more career-high games.
MORE INJURIES: Some key guys were limited Thursday, starting with running back Joe Mixon (knee), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip), slot corner Darqueze Dennard (neck), right guard Alex Redmond (hamstring), linebacker Vincent Rey (groin) and wide receiver John Ross (groin). Mixon doesn't appear to be serious enough to keep him out, but who knows what Friday brings?
And if you want an inactive list with guys that didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday, start with something like Green, middle linebacker Preston Brown (knee), WILL backer Nick Vigil (knee), wide receiver Josh Malone (hamstring), tight end Tyler Kroft (foot) and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington (knee). With the state of the linebackers so dire, someone may have to go on injured reserve to get somebody up and active since only two backers, Jordan Evans and rookie Malik Jefferson, aren't on the injury report.
GIO ON HUE: The return of Hue Jackson to the Bengals coaching staff means a lot to running back Giovani Bernard. As the running backs coach in 2013, Jackson had a large say in drafting Bernard with that second-round pick he originally sent to the Bengals as Raiders head coach in 2011 as part of the Carson Palmer trade.
"He's a good person," Bernard said after Thursday's practice. "You hear him talk and you want to run through a wall for him. He's just one of those guys that have that factor in him …. He brings a different type of feel to the team and I'm sure he's bringing that to the defense now. I'm excited to have him back."
When Jackson left after Bernard's third season, it was easy for Bernard to keep in touch.
"He's not just about football. Players appreciate it when a coach can talk to them about something other than football," he said. "You can talk to Hue about anything. Life."
2013? Long enough ago that Bernard's back-field mate was BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his offensive coordinator was Jay Gruden. But it's a year close by for Bernard.
"To have a coach like Hue my rookie year gave me a big advantage in my career here," Bernard said. "I definitely learned a lot from him. Just the mentality of running the ball. Never die easy. Never go down on the first hit. Don't be soft on the sideline, where you run out to make one of those business decisions. There are times you have to lower that shoulder. He's one of those individuals that kind of still plays in my head when I get near the sideline."