The 8-4 Baltimore Ravens take on the 5-7 Houston Texans in this week's installment of Monday Night Football on ESPN kicking off at 8:30 PM EST.
The Texans have a misleading record and have been in tight games virtually all year with some of the best teams in the league. A recent 4-game skid was interrupted by a drubbing shutout of the Tennessee Titans in Week 12, but the Texans met the Philadelphia Eagles last week and took a tough ten point loss to put them 2 games under .500 for the year.
The Baltimore Ravens are one of the absolute best teams in the NFL right now who always come to play. Only one team, Ironically the Buffalo Bills, have been able to score more than 30 points against this vaunted defense led by the outspoken and always-fired-up Ray Lewis. Since a disappointing 5-point loss to the Cincincatti Bengals in Week 2 the Ravens have only lost to the best of the best teams playing in the league this year. The other three losses for this team came against The Patriots, The Atlanta Falcons, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The margin of victory against them in these three losses was a combined 11 points.
Baltimore is certainly capable of a slip-up, but they have some ground to make up in their division and need to keep the pressure on Pittsburgh (10-3), which they split the season match-ups with already after beating them 17-14 in week 4 and taking their own three-point loss in Week 13 by a score of 13-10. Houston still has slim playoff hopes, but the talent just isn't there to beat a team like Baltimore playing under pressure and motivated to move on from last week's loss in a big way.
The quarterbacks have very similar stats. Baltimore's Joe Flacco (248-398, 2988 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs) and Matt Schaub (258-403, 3,089 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs) are almost mirror images of each other. The big difference between these two squads is at every other position, as Baltimore is a team that spreads the responsibility and shares the wealth. Running Backs Ray Rice (212 carries, 844 yards, 3 TDs) and Willis McGahee (79 carries, 281 yards, 4 TDs) share the running workload well, while Anquan Boldin (56 receptions, 770 yards, 7 TDs) and Derrick Mason (47 receptions, 598 yards, 4 TDs) are equal threats at Wide Receiver. Baltimore's defense is even more well balanced with Ray Lewis (108 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs) and Dawan Landry (81 tackles, sack) as the top two tacklers and Terrell Suggs (55 tackles, 9 sacks) and Haloti Ngata (54 tackles, 5.5 sacks) leading the team in sacks.
Houston puts the workload mostly on the A-Team: Arian Foster (246 carries, 1,230 yards, 13 TDs, 50 receptions, 479 yards, 2 TDs) and Andre Johnson (71 receptions, 1,018 yards, 5 TDs). Strong Safety Bernard Pollard is the team's leading tackler with 90, and Defensive End Mario Williams has 8.5 sacks to lead the team in that category.
All around, Baltimore is the better team going into this one. They should be able to handle anything Houston throws at them. As long as the defense stays tough and keeps Matt Schaub under pressure and Arian Foster limited to short runs, Joe Flacco will have a chance to pad his stats and get his team a win to keep pace just behind the Steelers. Ray Rice will have to play a big role, but Flacco will be the star of this one, using all his receivers to score early and often.
Baltimore should win by at least 10 points in this game and will want to score more to show the Steelers they aren't going away and are capable of an offensive explosion. These two teams are going to have the most competitive fight for the division lead in the league this year. Baltimore won't lose focus against a team they have every weapon to beat.