Ravens (+6 ½) at Lions
Over/Under at 50
One team’s loss is another team’s gain.
The Cincinnati Bengals, long believed to be a NOT-ready-for-prime-time team fueled criticisms that they and their quarterback aren’t built for the big stage, fell flat on their collective face in Pittsburgh last night while dropping to (9-5) on the season.
The loss left the door to the AFC North title wide open and for the Baltimore Ravens the path is clear – the game plan is simple…win out, win the division.
But while the path is clear it presents challenges and the terrain doesn’t exactly provide for a smooth ride beginning tonight in Detroit.
The Ravens have struggled on the road this season (1-5) but four of those setbacks were lost by a TOTAL of 15 points. On the road the Ravens seem to lose focus and that has been a pattern of the team after wins at home during the regular season. But with their backs to the wall, every game is a playoff game for John Harbaugh & Co. – a team that is battle-tested on the road during the playoffs where they’ve won more frequently than any team since the dawn of the new millennium.
Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco now has his go-to target TE Dennis Pitta available to him and Pitta’s presence alone loosens things up for Flacco’s other big-play potential targets Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and developing rookie Marlon Brown who has 6 TD catches. The challenge Pitta presents helps to boost a previously sluggish running game that showed some life last week against the Vikings. Defensively the Ravens are as healthy as a team can be in Week 15 and they also have big play potential in the return game with Jones unless of course Mike Tomlin pays a visit to Ford Field on Monday Night.
That said, the Ravens offensive line has struggled this season, particularly the interior line where center Gino Gradkowski has struggled and backup RG AQ Shipley has at times been overwhelmed given his physical limitations. Regular Pro Bowler LG Marshal Yanda has not had the rock solid season that has been a staple of the Ravens offense. By kickoff Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley should be frothing at the mouth.
Defensively the Ravens have almost always been able to keep an opponent’s No. 1 receiver in check with effective bracket coverage. But in doing so it puts pressure on their linebackers to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game and unfortunately the Lions have two threats in the forms of Brandon Pettigrew and Reggie Bush who could keep the chains moving and drives alive.
Both teams need a win and this will be a closely fought game that should be a high scoring, seesaw affair. But in the end the home field advantage (aided in part by referee Carl Cheffers’ affinity for the host teams that win 73.6% of the time on Cheffers’ watch compared to a league average of 54.9%), the more explosive offensive weapons and a Ravens defense that has not been clutch in close games will pave the way to a Motor City win and force Ravens fans back to scoreboard watching during Week 16.
Last Game: 1-0 v. Winner, 0-1 v. Spread
Season Total: 7-6 v. Winner, 6-6-1 v. Spread