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1. Will the Baltimore Ravens overwhelm the Buffalo Bills?
Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens (12-3) still have a lot at stake while Buffalo (7-8) is merely playing for a .500 record and a non-losing season. Baltimore can clinch at least a first-round bye with a victory and be assured of hosting a second-round playoff. They also have a slight chance of becoming the top seed in the AFC provided they win and the San Diego Chargers (13-2) lose to the Arizona Cardinals today. The teams would be tied with the same record, but Baltimore would own the tiebreaker edge because of an Oct. 1 win over San Diego.
Although Buffalo has won four of its past six games and managed to shut out the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago before ruining their faint playoff hopes with a narrow loss to the Tennessee Titans last week, the Bills don’t have much on the line today other than pride. The Ravens have designs on setting themselves up to win another Super Bowl.
2. How many times will J.P. Losman get sacked?
The Bills’ scrappy quarterback has already been downed 44 times this season, and Baltimore ranks second in the NFL behind the Chargers with 57 sacks. Despite the Bills’ suspect offensive line, Losman has completed a high percentage of his passes and is dangerous when throwing to Lee Evans, who has the blazing speed to run past any member of the Ravens’ secondary. Losman will need to get rid of the football quickly and be careful where he tries to go with it because the Ravens excel at creating turnovers.
3. Will Steve McNair have a big game?
The Bills thrive on creating pressure with Pro Bowl right end Aaron Schobel, who has a sack in six consecutive games. Buffalo is susceptible to allowing big plays, so Adam Terry will need to hold off Schobel’s charge long enough for McNair to locate Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams downfield.
4. Will Jamal Lewis have a field day?
Although Lewis has only eclipsed 100 yards twice this season, he’s running hard and has to be licking his chops at facing off with the league’s 29th-ranked run defense. The Bills absolutely couldn’t stop the Titans’ Travis Henry last week, and Baltimore has a substantial size advantage over the Bills’ smallish defensive front seven.
5. Will Willis McGahee be successful on the ground?
McGahee is a true workhorse who can wear down most defenses, but it will be extremely difficult to do that to Baltimore, which held Willie Parker to 29 yards on 13 carries during last week’s 31-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. McGahee is battling rib and ankle injuries.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Total (17) Rushing (25) Passing (11)
Steve McNair threw three touchdown passes last week despite having a sore throwing hand. He only needs 25 more yards today to hit 30,000 passing yards for his career. He has been the most accurate passer in franchise history.
Jamal Lewis has scored touchdowns in seven of the past six games, and Baltimore is 7-0 this season when he scores. Lewis’ numbers aren’t too impressive (1,063 yards, nine touchdowns), but the Ravens will have a difficult decision on whether to retain him.
The Ravens are one of four teams featuring three players with at least 60 receptions. However, Derrick Mason has been grumbling about not being involved more. Rookie Demetrius Williams is the most difficult to cover from this group lately.
They have only allowed one sack in the past five games. With Jonathan Ogden out again, Adam Terry will get another opportunity to prove himself today against Aaron Schobel.
Total (1) Rushing (2) Passing (6)
Trevor Pryce has done much more than provide an inside pass rush with 12 sacks. He has 71 tackles and two forced fumbles. Nose guard Kelly Gregg ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 95 along with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks. Rookie Haloti Ngata has improved his technique markedly.
Ray Lewis has quietly put together a nice season one year removed from hamstring surgery with 152 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. Linebacker Bart Scott needs a half-sack today to reach 10 for the season. Could this be impending free agent commodity Adalius Thomas’ final regular season game in Baltimore.
Strong safety Dawan Landry deserves all-rookie notice after intercepting five passes and rarely committing a mental bust. Free safety Ed Reed revived his season just in time to make the Pro Bowl. Samari Rolle is playing with confidence again. Chris McAlister has become a shutdown corner again.
Return specialist Cory Ross has failed to create a spark in the wake of B.J. Sams’ season-ending injury, averaging just 2.4 yards per punt return. Kicker Matt Stover has converted 24 of 26 field goal attempts. Punter Sam Koch is averaging 43.2 yards per punt.
Total (30) Rushing (27) Passing (29)
J.P. Losman has made significant strides this year while running for his life. His accuracy, poise, mobility and arm strength bode well for the Bills’ future.
Willis McGahee is a hard-nosed runner who grinds out the yards inside and doles out punishment. Anthony Thomas is a decent change of pace. Fullback Daimon Shelton is out with a concussion.
Lee Evans is a legitimate deep threat, capable of stretching the secondary. Tight end Robert Royal is a solid safety-valve option. Peerless Price is a disappointment, and so is Josh Reed.
The most suspect part of the Bills’ offense. Josh Peters is virtually the only talented blocker. Do you recognize the names Mike Gandy, Melvin Fowler (Maryland), who couldn’t even start for the Cleveland Browns, Duke Preston and Terrance Pennington? What an obscure collection.
Total (19) Rushing (29) Passing (7)
A smallish front four is led by right end Aaron Schobel, who ranks third in the NFL with 14 sacks. However, Larry Tripplett, Josh Williams and Chris Kelsay are all under 300 pounds and could get pushed around today.
Takeo Spikes headlines a solid linebacking corps, but has struggled with injuries. London Fletcher leads the team with an astounding 149 tackles, and has scored two touchdowns.
The Bills are hard to throw on generally, but can be beaten deep on occasion. Rookie safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson are physically gifted, but lack experience and savvy. Cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Nate Clements are respectable cover guys, especially Clements.
Kicker Rian Lindell was just signed to a lucrative extension. He deserved it for converting 23 of 25 field goals, including 8 of 10 between 40 and 49 yards and 2 of 2 from beyond 50 yards. Punt returner Roscoe Parrish is dangerous with an 11.7 average and an 82-yard return for a score. Kickoff returner Terrence McGee is averaging 26.6 yards and has an 88-yard return. Punter Brian Moorman is averaging 43.7 yards.