Monty: There are a lot of reasons why the Green Bay Packers are going to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. There’s one reason why they won’t – I’m going to be at the game.
Not counting preseason, the Packers haven’t won a game that I’ve attended since a 2003 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. So, either I choose which games I attend poorly, or I’m some kind of jinx.
Well, I’m not going to stop going to Packers games and I’m fuckin’ due, goddamn it!
On paper, the Packers are the better team. The Ravens major strength is in their run game, where Ray Rice has 821 yards and averages 4.9 yards/carry. However, since being gashed by the Rams’ Steven Jackson in week three, the Packers have held big-time running backs in check on their way to the No. 1 defensive ranking (No. 2 after Sunday’s action). The Packers are ranked fourth in the league versus the run at 89.1 yards/game. While Rice could well surpass 100 yards in what are expected to be snowy conditions, he won’t come near 4.9 yards/carry and the Ravens’ receiving corp isn’t consistent enough to carry the team to victory.
On the flip side, the Ravens’ defense is banged up. The team’s pass rush isn’t nearly as strong as it was last season (the Ravens have averaged only 1.9 sacks/game this season), and will likely be without their top pass rusher, Terrell Suggs. Linebacker Ray Lewis is still solid, but he isn’t the dominant force he used to be, and has also been slowed by injury this season – watch how limited his lateral movement is.
The Ravens will also be without starting cornerback Fabian Washington, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. While the elements will favor the running game, expect Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers to make enough big throws to carry the day.
This won’t be a high-scoring affair because of the elements, but the fact is, Baltimore isn’t that good. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders on Sunday shows just how far the once-vaunted AFC North is down this season. Baltimore narrowly got by Pittsburgh, who started their third-string quarterback, at home last week.
My liver has braced itself for a beating, and that tells me the Packers win tonight.
Packers 20, Ravens 13
Steffen: It feels like an eternity since the Packers last played. Hopefully, this post-Thanksgiving mini-bye hasn’t slowed down the team’s momentum and instead gave the Packers time to recharge and prepare for a dangerous opponent.
After charging into the AFC championship last year, The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been anything near consistent in 2009. However, with the way Ray Rice has been running lately, they cannot be taken lightly. And even though the Ravens are banged up and aging, any defense with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed ought to be approached with caution.
That said, Green Bay is riding high. Their offense has begun to realize the potential many experts foresaw during the preseason. With all the skill positions at nearly full strength, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers is putting up monster numbers. The offensive line remains shaky and injury prone, but the arrival of Mark Tauscher seems to have balanced things out and the Packers line has done a better job protecting Aaron Rodgers, but make no mistake – the Ravens will provide a measuring stick for the Packers to gauge how much the line has truly improved.
I believe Ray Rice and and the Ravens running game will be the key to game. What scheme Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers chooses to stop him with will dictate everything. My concern is that he may employ a similar scheme to the one used against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson. In both games Capers stuffed the box to stop Peterson, but applied no pressure in the passing game. Ravens QB Joe Flacco is young, but too good of a quarterback to give that much time.
I think Capers will recognize that the likes of Jarret Bush, who has stepped in as the Packers’ nickel back, won’t be able to sustain coverage long enough to justify a vanilla scheme. The Packers will stay aggressive and continue to find creative ways to put Defensive Player of the Year Elect Charles Woodson in position to make plays.
With both teams fighting to stay in the playoff picture, this will be a close, hard fought contest. With momentum, health and a raucous Lambeau Field crowd (led by our own Monty) on their side, I expect the Pack to come out on top.
Packers 28, Ravens 24
Sarah: On paper, this matchup favors the Green Bay Packers, but the Baltimore Ravens are in the AFC wild card race for a reason and their run defense in particular will test running back Ryan Grant and the Packers’ patchwork offensive line.
Opposing running backs are averaging just 3.5 yards/carry against the Ravens. And while the Packers’ offensive line did a great job at opening holes for Grant in the team’s win over San Francisco, it has failed miserably in others (i.e. at the Detroit Lions, where Grant averaged just 3.1 yards/carry).
Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t have much of a problem against the Ravens’ pass defense, which is ranked 12th in the league and recently lost cornerback Fabian Washington (torn ACL) and star pass rusher Terrell Suggs (torn MCL) to injuries.
Baltimore wide receivers Derrick Mason and running back Ray Rice are having great seasons. The problem is they aren’t getting much help from anyone else on offense, leaving quarterback Joe Flacco with few consistent targets. Should be a no-brainer for the Packers’ second-ranked defense.
The real problems for the Packers, as usual this season, could come in the form of penalties and special teams play. If they can avoid penalty flags and big kick returns, they should win this one and keep themselves in sold position for an NFC wild card berth.
Packers 24, Ravens 16