In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don’t hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
After back-to-back losses, the Ravens are at a crossroads. And the bad news is that the tractor trailer known as the Denver Broncos is barreling downhill at them at full speed. The Broncos have won eight straight games and are vying for playoff positioning with the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Ravens.
Yes, believe it or not, the Ravens are still in the conversation. If they can beat the Broncos, who locked up the AFC West a couple of weeks ago, the Ravens will jump ahead of them for the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Crazy, I know. It seems like those two straight losses doomed them, but at 9-4, they’re still in good shape record-wise.
Momentum-wise, and maybe more importantly, health-wise, not so much. Linebacker Jameel McClain has been ruled out for the game and fellow linebacker Ray Lewis won’t play. It doesn’t look good for Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda or safety Bernard Pollard, who did not practice this week. And I’m not even going to go there with linebacker Terrell Suggs, whom I predicted would play last weekend only to see him on street clothes.
I apologize for this in advance, but I could only see a lot of doom and gloom in my crystal ball when looking ahead to Sunday. The good news, though, is that I have been way off with my predictions in recent weeks.
1. PEYTON MANNING WILL THROW FOR 300 YARDS
I know this one is a no-brainer, that maybe the hottest quarterback in the NFL, Peyton Manning, will pick apart the banged-up Ravens defense for 300 passing yards. But the Ravens haven’t allowed a 300-yarder passer in more than a month, and the last guy to do it, Carson Palmer, threw the ball 45 times to get there. That run should end Sunday, though, when Manning, who has won eight straight starts against the Ravens, throws to towering targets like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Plus, unproven linebacker Josh Bynes will be wearing the green dot due to injuries. His chances of winning the chess match with Manning are not good.
2. VON MILLER WILL RECORD AT LEAST TWO SACKS
The past few weeks have been tough for Baltimore’s young offensive tackles, particularly Michael Oher, who has watched his guy knock the ball away from quarterback Joe Flacco in consecutive weeks. Bouncing back won’t be easy against a Denver defense that has one of the NFL’s top pass-rushing tandems in linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil has eight sacks this season, which is pretty good. Miller has twice as many, which is why he is considered to be one of the top contenders for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. I see him adding two sacks to his total Sunday. And if it gets ugly, it could be three or more.
3. RAY RICE WILL GET HIS 20 TOUCHES -- BARELY
With Jim Caldwell taking over for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was fired on Monday, I think the Ravens will put a little more emphasis on running the ball. Then again, they probably would have anyway, as Rice’s workload has picked up the past couple of Decembers. The Ravens hope their new coordinator will help them become an explosive offense by the time the playoffs start, but on this afternoon, I think they will try to shorten the game and play keep-away with Manning, and that means running the ball with Rice. And if they fall behind, Rice will be involved in the passing game, too. Either way, he will touch the ball 20 times.
4. THE RAVENS WILL SURVIVE IN THE RED ZONE
This is maybe the biggest key to Sunday’s game in my eyes. The Ravens, despite all their injuries and uneven play, rank first in the NFL in red-zone defense, only allowing touchdowns 40 percent of the time. The Broncos rank 10th in red-zone offense at 56.9 percent. Manning and the Broncos are going to move the ball at M&T Bank Stadium. We know that much. But if the Ravens can rally when their heels are touching their own goal line and hold the Broncos to field goals, they will have a chance. The woeful Oakland Raiders were able to do that a week ago. If the Ravens can keep it tight until the fourth quarter, they might be able to steal a win.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun