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Buccaneers @ Ravens: Key Matchups

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Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

With the AFC North crown in sight, the Ravens return to Baltimore for a must-win match against the 5-8 Buccaneers. Tampa Bay pairs the top passing offense in the NFL with a bottom-6 run game and total defense. Sandwiched between road contests against two of the best teams in the conference, Week 15 could be a trap game for Baltimore.

The Ravens are 7.5 point favorites with the point total set at 46.5. Trends favor Baltimore, they are 15-7 at home and 6-1 when favored by more than a touchdown since 2016. Furthermore, the Buccaneers are 1-5 on the road this season and 4-15 when playing an opponent with a winning record over the last three seasons.

Joe Flacco tossed four first quarter touchdowns to jumpstart a 48-17 rout when these teams last met in 2014. Yet Flacco will backup Lamar Jackson this Sunday. John Harbaugh opted to stick with the run-heavy, pressure defense formula that saved the season. Despite their flaws, the Buccaneers do field the weapons to force Jackson out of his comfort zone and give the Ravens a game.

Three key matchups:

C Matt Skura vs DT Gerald McCoy

McCoy usually lines-up across from the left guard and will require frequent double teams. A disruptive penetrator, the six-time Pro Bowler has accumulated six sacks, six tackles for a loss and 18 quarterback hits in 11 games this season.

Skura has shown an inability to anchor in pass protection throughout the season, including a sack allowed to Chris Jones last week. Asking the young center to contain the veteran one-on-one would be ill advised. Baltimore also needs Skura to deliver effective combination blocks before climbing to the second level in the run game.

The Ravens resurgence since the bye has largely been built on controlling the line of scrimmage. Containing McCoy is the top priority in Week 15.

CB Jimmy Smith vs WR Mike Evans

Slowly but surely, Jimmy Smith is rounding back into form following his Achilles tear. He was not flawless against the speedy Tyreek Hill last week. However, he displayed his ability to be one of the top cover corners in the league against Julio Jones in the previous game.

Tampa Bay has a formidable receiving corps with Evans serving as the clear cut leading man. The 6’5 wideout has over 1,200 yards the season and a career best average of 17.2 yards per catch. DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard are injured, but red zone target Chris Godwin, slot man Adam Humphries and tight end Cameron Brate bring more than enough talent to complement Evans.

Baltimore signed Smith precisely for matchups such as these. If Jimmy can prevent Evans from posting a consequential game, the banged up secondary can focus on Jameis Winston’s secondary weapons

RB Kenneth Dixon vs LB Lavonte David

Dixon has returned from injured reserve with a vengeance. In three games the halfback has two scores and averaged nearly five yards per carry on limited touches. After rumbling through the Chiefs defense last week, Dixon has earned a more prominent role.

Despite missing two games, David leads the Buccaneers defense with 74 solo tackles. His speed helped limit the powerful Saints to 3.3 yards per carry last week. The two-time All-Pro is perhaps the best off-the-ball linebacker the Ravens have faced since Lamar Jackson took control of the offense.

The Ravens will rely on Dixon and Gus Edwards’ efficient work on the ground to stay on schedule and prevent unfavorable down and distances.

Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Bucs 16