The Baltimore Ravens travel up I-95 about ninety minutes north of here to see not only how good they are, but also how real the Philadelphia Eagles are as well. Odds are that the Ravens are not quite as overwhelmingly good as they looked last week nor are the Eagles anywhere as bad as they looked last week too.
The Ravens 44-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals had them looking like Super Bowl contenders while the Eagles 17-16 last-minute comeback win at the Cleveland Browns had them looking like the colossal disappointment they were last year after being one of the pre-season favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Despite their Houdini-like win last week, the Eagles still put up a ton of yardage on offense, but mainly it was due to QB Michael Vick putting the ball in the air 56 times. With RB LeSean McCoy running for 110 yards, it was almost surprising to see that many passes and when you throw the ball so much, bad things are bound to happen.
(More after the 'Jump' including my prediction of the final score)
Four Michael Vick interceptions kept the Browns in the game and it was only because of their ineptitude that they could not turn Vick's gifts into a win. If Vick throws four picks to the Ravens, this game will get ugly for the Philly fans and everyone knows how ugly their fans can get as evidenced by the famous "booing and throwing snowballs at Santa" story.
The Ravens can still encourage the Eagles' fans to resort to that type of behavior if they play to their potential. Solid on both sides of the ball, they unleashed a dangerous passing attack last week that saw QB Joe Flacco complete 21 passes to seven different receivers. RB Ray Rice only needed to carry the ball ten times, but still scored two touchdowns. Defenses cannot key on any one player like most team which will make this Baltimore offense so unpredictable as the season progresses.
Defensively, the Ravens used a variety of schemes and stunts to put solid pressure on the opposing QB, good news with the loss of Terrell Suggs' 14 sacks from last season. Ray Lewis' 14 tackles and another highlight reel interception return by Ed Reed proved this so-called "aging" defense is anything but that.
The Eagles counter with one of the most athletic QBs in the league, but one that has been erratic when forced to pass his team to victory. McCoy could give the Ravens fits if the Eagle stick with the run game. The Ravens hope to put Philly in second and third and long situations to force Vick to beat them in the pocket.
Even though both wide receivers, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, were listed as questionable, expect one or both to play. However the Ravens defensive backs have been solid and while they will begrudgingly give up the underneath passes, they refuse to be beaten deep and have the insurance policy of the best "centerfielder" in the game back there.
The Eagles pass rush should be a great test to see how good the Ravens pass protection will be, with their new look of youth at three fifths of the line. The Eagles front seven is fast and athletic, but the Ravens size advantage up front could turn the tide in their advantage. If Baltimore takes a lead into the fourth quarter, expect the offensive line to begin to wear down the smaller Eagles defenders and keep the clock rolling with the time of possession advantage in the Ravens' favor.
Combined with Baltimore's balanced attack and matured focus of Flacco, versus the inconsistencies of Vick, the Ravens should win this game despite what people have been saying about the road woes this team experienced last season. This is not 2011, it is 2012 and we will see a more aggressive game-plan form the coaching staff and another statement to the rest of the league and especially to the New England Patriots, who come to Baltimore next week for a nationally-televised rematch of their AFC Championship Game.
Not overlooking the Eagles at all, Baltimore proves it is worthy of the Super Bowl contender status and then readies themselves for revenge against the team that knew they were lucky to get to the Super Bowl last February. Get ready, New England, you're next. Right now, Philadelphia will find out what you will shortly.