Enough of all the talk, let's get it on! The Battle of the Beltway will be just like a backyard brawl with the trash being strewn about by both teams' fans. This is the first time in Baltimore Ravens history that the Washington Redskins have played a regular season game in Baltimore. The previous games between the teams have all been played in the Redskins backyard, but now we get to kick their butts in front of our fans, or at least mostly our fans. There's sure to be more than a few crimson and gold colors in M&T Bank Stadium tonight, but they will be drowned out by the purple and black who plan on turning the 'skins into black and blue by night's end.
The weather will be middle of the winter classic playoff football, with temperatures in the 20's and a stiff breeze. The fans will feel it more than the players, although it may make it tricky to throw the long passes and kick field goals. However, the hitting is expected to be fierce, as both teams have top ten defenses.
This is a must win game for both teams, although one will go home as a loser, with its playoff hopes either dashed or diminished. The Ravens sit at 8-4, good for the second Wild Card slot right now and just a game behind the AFC North division leading Pittsburgh Steelers, who visit the Bank next Sunday for what will most likely be the determining factor in the race for the division title. A win will only solidify their playoff position and hopes, while a loss will throw them back to the pack for the Wild Card fight. Meanwhile, the Redskins are desperate for a win, as they are 7-5 and currently out of the playoffs but could easily get back into the hunt with a win, while a loss would all but eliminate them from postseason consideration.
Unfortunately for the Redskins fans, today's game will not be a fun one to sit in the cold as an enemy fan nor even in the warmth of your own homes or the local brewpub, as there is just no way I can envision Washington winning this game. As it has been similar for the Ravens when they've had to go on the road and beat a tough team, there are just too many things that will need to go right for the Redskins to win this game. They will have to hope that they are able to run the ball effectively, complete the key passes and play a strong defense to stop us and get some turnovers. All in all, a task that they have not looked anywhere good enough to be up to tonight. The 'skins have lost three of their last four, with their only win by three points over the 2-10 Seattle Seahawks. This is nowhere near the same team that went to Dallas and Philly earlier in the season and won, starting the season off with a 6-2 record. Their offense has not been effective and while they have a very good defense, they have not been able to muster much of a pass rush, which will let just about any QB in the league find their open receivers sooner or later.
On the Ravens side, our offense has been clicking on all cylinders. Winners of six of seven, Baltimore has averaged over 30 points per game and now stand in the league's top ten in scoring average. The passing and running attack has been surprisingly well balanced and their choice of star running back for the week changes on a regular basis. Rookie QB Joe Flacco has been finding his receivers on short and long passes, with his recent success with the long ball to Mark Clayton. The Ravens have minimized their mistakes while creating turnovers that have gien them excellent field position leading to quick points.
The Ravens defense needs no introductions. They are #2 in the league and although they were shredded by the Giants, the Redskins bear no resemblance to New York. Therefore, expect a relatively low scoring game by Ravens standards, with both defenses keeping the opponents in check for the first half. The Ravens own the second half, especially the fourth quarter and I expect no difference as the game turns in our favor in the final 30 minutes. The Ravens will wear down the Redskins by throwing fresh running backs at them, mixing in a variety of passes, both short and long, as we all have seen what a great arm Flacco has shown on the deep routes. While Redskin QB Jason Campbell has not thrown too many interceptions, he will throw some tonight, as the Ravens will shut down Clinton Portis and the running game, forcing Campbell to the air much more than he is comfortable with. He is also susceptible to the sack and our pressure will cause him to turn the ball over deep in their own territory.
Call me a homer, but after seeing how the Redskins rolled over in the face of a tough defense in their home loss on Monday Night Football to the Pittsburgh Steelers and last week at home to the NY Giants, I see no reason that the same won't happen in Baltimore when they feel the wrath of this hard hitting opportunistic defense, that incidently leads the NFL in interceptions.
The Ravens have not played well on a national stage, but that has been as an underdog on prime time. However, the last time we were the favorite on either Sunday or Monday Night Football, we destroyed the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings on national TV and tonight should show the nation that no one will want to face us in the post season.
As stated earlier, the game will stay close for the first half, but the Ravens will take control in the third quarter and put it out of reach early in the final fifteen minutes. The Ravens move to 9-4 and while I'll hope that we end the night tied with the Steelers after they lose to the Cowboys, I doubt it and thereofre will have to take matters into our own hands next Sunday when we meet in Baltimore.
(NOTE: Feel free to use this space for a gametime Open Thread, although I won't be able to join you as I will be in my seats at the game.