Monday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions – preview and prediction
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
Monday night on ESPN; Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden
Lions favored by 5½
Baltimore has won three straight and four of their last five, while Detroit has lost three out of four to allow Green Bay and Chicago to re-enter the division race. Conventional wisdom would be to go with the hot team over he cold club, but don’t overlook how schizophrenic the Ravens are. All four of those victories in that streak came at M&T, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL; Baltimore is 6-1 there but just 1-5 on the road. Detroit has been turning the ball over at an alarming rate (15 in the last four games), but their offense is geared to take advantage of playing on a carpet inside the dome.
Detroit had a golden opportunity to take advantage of injuries to Aaron Rodgers and multiple players on Chicago’s defense over the last several weeks, but today they find themselves a half game behind the Bears and just .002 percentage points ahead of the Packers. Last week the Lions blew second half leads of 14-0 and 20-14 while allowing 299 yards rushing and 478 yards total in the 34-20 loss at Philadelphia. Baltimore on the other hand scored three touchdowns in the final 2:05 to pull out an improbable 29-26 victory over Minnesota last week.
The Lions simply do not play disciplined football. Last week they committed nine penalties and turned the ball over three times; if not for a pair of special teams touchdowns the game wouldn’t have been close. Matthew Stafford will look spectacular on one drive but make head scratching decision on the next, and his mechanics leave much to be desired. Detroit does get a boost with Reggie Bush returning this week though, and his speed and agility on the carpet should not be underestimated. Baltimore is very strong against the run (3.8 yards per carry, 4th; 101 yards per game, 7th) but average in pass defense (7.1 yards per pass, 16th; 232 yards per game, 13th) so the combination of Bush on screens and Calvin Johnson deep should be effective.
The Baltimore offensive line has done nothing to open up running lanes for Ray Rice; on the year the Ravens have rushed for 100 yards just twice, and they are dead last in the NFL with a puny 3.0 yards per carry. The offense has had to rely on Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and the passing game, and the results have been mixed. With no running game the Ravens have the fourth most three and outs on offense (27.7%) and with opponents are able to pin their ears back with their pass rush with no respect for the running game; that has resulted in 41 sacks on Flacco. Even though opposing defenses know what’s coming Smith has still had a good year (55 receptions for 963 yards and 4 touchdowns). Detroit’s pass defense is nothing special (7.7 yards per pass, 25th; 256 yards per game, 26th) so expect Baltimore to test the Lion secondary early and often. Similar to Detroit, the Baltimore offense has been prone to turning the ball over; they have coughed it up at least twice in four of their last six games.
Playoff implications: With a victory the Lions will reclaim the lead in the NFC North. Both Detroit and Chicago would have 8-6 records, but the Lions would take the top spot since they swept the Bears this season. If Detroit loses they drop to third in the NFC North and 10th overall in the NFC; their final two games are certainly winnable (home versus the Giants and at Minnesota) but they would have to rely on others above them losing to make the post-season even if they were to win out.
Baltimore is now a half game behind the Dolphins for the final AFC playoff spot after Miami’s victory Sunday, and would be tied with San Diego at 7-7 should they lose. If the Ravens win they can vault back into the sixth seed and also climb to within one game of Cincinnati in the AFC North. Baltimore finishes the season with a challenging schedule, against three teams with winning records: tonight’s game at 7-6 Detroit, next week versus 10-4 New England, and then at 9-5 Cincinnati to finish the season in what may be a game for the division title.
Pick • Lions 27, Ravens 24
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