NFL

Monday Night Football Preview: Baltimore Ravens vs. Detroit Lions

It’s another Monday night and there’s another meaningful football game with playoff implications. These two teams may be in different conferences, but both need to come out on top in this game. Let’s take a closer look at the Ravens and the Lions.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?
There’s a lot of pressure on the Lions, as the Bears have taken over the lead in the NFC North after Detroit had plenty of opportunities to run away with the division and failed to do so. The Lions will win a tiebreaker with the Bears, but a loss tonight by Detroit would mean that Chicago controls its own destiny, which is not a position the Lions want to be. Baltimore is in a similar position, as they control their tiebreaker with Miami for the final wildcard spot in the AFC, but a loss tonight would put them a game behind the Dolphins, meaning Miami would control its own destiny. Miami also has an easier schedule the final two weeks than the Ravens do, so it’ll be easier for the Dolphins to lock up the final wildcard spot if they get a lead on Baltimore, making this game a must-win for the Ravens, even on the road.

BALTIMORE OFFENSE VS. DETROIT DEFENSE
It has not been a good season for the Ravens on offense, but there have been marginal signs of improvement in recent weeks, which gives them some hope coming down the stretch. The issue they’ll have in this game is that Detroit is one of the best teams in the league at stopping the run with its stout defensive front, and if Baltimore can’t establish its ground game, it’ll be tough for Joe Flacco to go deep, which is what he does best. If the Ravens can make the Lions respect their running attack and keep Flacco protected in the pocket, he may be able to have success with a growing group of playmakers around him with the return of Dennis Pitta and the emergence of rookie Marlon Brown, who caught the game-winning touchdown last week against Minnesota. Detroit’s defense has given up a lot of yards and a lot of points this season, and they’re not always reliable, but if they can stuff the run and pressure Flacco with their pass rush, they should be able to slow up the Ravens enough to win the game.

DETROIT OFFENSE VS. BALTIMORE DEFENSE
The Lions have a great gunslinger in Matthew Stafford and one of the best wide receivers in football in Calvin Johnson, but that hasn’t always translated into wins for them. Reggie Bush is in limbo after missing last week’s game, but he’s expected to play, and he’s the ultimate x-factor for the Detroit offense. When Bush is involved in the offense and is being productive as either a runner or receiver, the Lions reach another level and can be tough to stop. The Baltimore defense has done well this season even after losing several key players, but this will be the best offense they’ve faced since week 1 when they played Denver. If the Ravens can’t stop the Lions from moving the ball, then their only hope could be to force turnovers, which is a weakness Detroit has showcased several times this season, although taking the ball away isn’t necessarily a strength of the Ravens. If the Lions can hold onto the football, they should be able to score a substantial amount of points, but if not, the advantage in this matchup could go to the Ravens.

PREDICTION
This is a tough game to call, because both teams need to win, so there’s a sense of urgency on both sides. Detroit is the more talented team, but they’ve also lost three of their last four and have let opportunities pass them by, while the Ravens have won four of their last five and are fighting hard to get back to the playoffs, and they look excited to be playing football, so it’s not hard to envision the Ravens pulling off a surprise win on Monday night. However, the Ravens are 1-5 on the road this season, and in a dome stadium, offense is worth more than defense, and there’s no doubt the Lions have a distinct advantage there. Detroit 31, Baltimore 21.

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