The Baltimore Ravens host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this afternoon and they plan on being rude to their guests by sending them home with a raging hangover. The game was "flexed" by the NFL from its original time of 1 pm to the 4:15 pm time slot as it looks to be one of the top games of the day. Two teams, both with 7-3 records fighting for the lead in their respective divisions as the contenders have begun to separate from the pretenders in the race for the playoffs.
However, one statistic sticks out in this game, which should be part of the reason why the outcome will end up as I see it happening All seven of the Buccaneers wins have come against teams with losing records. On the other hand, the Ravens have beaten two of the top teams in the league in the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, and have came close against both the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. In addition, when the Bucs played the Steelers in Tampa, they were trashed by the more physical Pittsburgh team, 38-13, and also were badly embarrassed at home by the New Orleans Saints, 31-6.
Some say this is a much better team than the one that lost those games, as the Buccaneers have won four of their past five games. However,those four victories were against the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, whose combined record is a paltry 11-29.
Tampa Bay has been one of the pleasant surprises in the NFL this season, as they only won three games a year ago and no one had big expectations coming into 2010. Along the way, no one told QB Josh Freeman, rookie RB LeGarrette Blount or WR Mike Williams, all players who have over-achieved even by Tampa Bay fan's standards.
Now they come into Baltimore trying to prove they are a legitimate playoff contender and the Ravens plan to send them home with a swat on the backside, telling them to go play with the kids and leave the big boys alone. The Ravens will present the Tampa secondary with fits, as Ravens QB Joe Flacco has thrown to as many as nine different receivers in a game this season. He doesn't seem to mind who gets the ball and he has the weapons to spread the ball around to, which should make the legendary "Tampa-2" defense work overtime in order to stop. Baltimore also boasts a tough run game and while it hasn't been as successful as it was last season, they still have the three-headed monster that should help them control the clock, win the time of possession battle and wear down the Tampa defense.
On the Buccaneers side of the ball, their offense will have to be successful running the ball if they want to pass against an opportunistic Ravens pass defense, which has proven a lot tougher since All Pro free safety Ed Reed has returned to the lineup. Expect Bucs QB Josh Freeman to be confused, harassed and rushed into making the typeof mistakes that youngsters tend to do when playing against a top defense. While the oddsmakers see this game as at least a TD difference in terms of the point spread, the Bucsshould keep the game close until they wear down in the face of a punishing defense and a ball control offense. The Ravens will take the lead into the fourth quarter and then put the game away with defensive turnovers as they move to 8-3 and stay in first place in the AFC North for another week, setting up a battle for first place next week in prime time on Sunday Night Football with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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