Currently sitting one game above .500, the Baltimore Ravens will probably need to win at least one of their remaining tossup games, if not both, to secure a wildcard bid. The first opportunity will occur this Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Expect a close game that could easily go either way.
The Ravens have benefitted from playing subpar quarterbacks the last two weeks in Brett Hundley and Tom Savage. Because the Packers and Texans both pair these signal callers with better run than pass defense, it made sense for Baltimore to attempt to build early leads through the air and play sound defense until these quarterbacks made mistakes.
The contest with the Lions calls for a completely different gameplan. Matthew Stafford is a capable quarterback with explosive weapons at his disposal. Furthermore, the Lions defense is vulnerable to smash mouth rushing attacks. Therefore, the Ravens would be wise to combine a ball control offense with aggressive defensive calls in Week 13.
Five key matchups:
RB Alex Collins vs MLB Jarrad Davis
Collins yards per carry has declined steadily as he has been tasked with an increased workload. Despite scoring touchdowns in consecutive games, he has been held in check besides a long run on a fourth down pitch against Houston. Detroit’s 24th ranked rushing defense should allow Alex to get back on track. Davis, a first round rookie, has brough much needed stability to the middle of the Lions defense. He is slightly undersized but has plus range. The two should meet in the hole several times on Sunday, with the winner of these battles giving his team an advantage.
RB Danny Woodhead vs OLB Tahir Whitehead
Danny has been on a pitch count since returning from injured reserve in Week 12. Over his last two games, Woodhead has received just 14 touches for 68 yards. Ravens underperforming receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace will likely be neutralized by Darrius Slay and company. If so, Woodhead’s ability to pick up yards after the catch will be vital in order to keep the chains moving. Whitehead leads the Lions with 59 solo tackles, including ten against the Vikings last week. He will often be in position to mark Woodhead out of the backfield. Baltimore will need major contributions from Woodhead to control time of possession.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs LT Taylor Decker
Suggs has all but cemented his Hall of Fame legacy with five sacks and a pair of forced fumbles over the last three weeks. Decker, another former first round selection in his second season, missed the first nine games of the year with a shoulder injury. His pass blocking has been less than stellar since returning. Despite allowing the third most sacks in the league this season, the Lions still field the tenth best passing offense in the NFL. Suggs must pressure Stafford in order to limit the stress placed upon the secondary.
OLB Matthew Judon vs RT Rick Wagner
Another important edge matchup. These two players are familiar with each other after practicing as members of the Ravens last year before Wagner left for Detroit. Ricky has been up and down for the Lions, with some strong games mixed in with some lackluster performances. After a breakout game against the Packers, Judon was quiet on Monday night outside of a boneheaded roughness penalty. Again, the defense must apply consistent pressure on Stafford off the edge to ensure they get off the field on third down.
FS Eric Weddle vs QB Matthew Stafford
Weddle appears to have lost a step this season in his 11th season. Still, he is making plays with four interceptions and a forced fumble so far this year. Stafford has tossed just six picks compared to 21 touchdowns this season. He is also extremely poised in crunch time, enabling him to pull out numerous comeback victories over the last few years. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are fully capable of beating the Ravens cornerbacks. Weddle must be in position to limit their damage after the catch. Another takeaway from the savvy safety could go a long way towards a Ravens win.
This is a tough spot for the Ravens as they will be playing on short rest off a physical game while the Lions will be on extra rest. Between drops from the receivers, breakdowns in pass protection and inaccuracy from Joe Flacco, the offense has been unable to produce many plays in the passing game, even against teams that stack the box to stop the run. Unless the Ravens defense creates multiple turnovers against Stafford, Baltimore will be hard pressed to keep pace. And Dean Pees bend don’t break scheme has struggled to find success against vertical offenses such as Jim Bob Cooter’s. Unfortunately, the prediction is another crushing home loss for the Ravens. Lions 24, Ravens 19.