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.
The playoff-bound Ravens have lost three straight games for the first time since 2009, but they can deliver a second straight AFC North title -- what a lovely holiday gift that would be for the city of Baltimore -- with a win Sunday. It won’t be easy, as they play another desperate team for what feels like the 16th week in a row.
Like the Ravens, quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants are coming off an embarrassing blowout loss. But unlike the Ravens, they have not locked down a playoff spot. They need a win Sunday and another next week to ensure that they will get a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship in the postseason.
Will the good Giants or bad Giants show up at M&T Bank Stadium? Better yet, will the good Ravens -- you know, that championship-contending team that we haven’t seen since around Thanksgiving -- or bad Ravens come out to defend their home turf? I will give my best guess on that and make three other predictions, but as always, please don’t hold it against me when they are wrong. It is the holiday season, after all.
1. VICTOR CRUZ WILL HAVE AT LEAST SEVEN CATCHES
The Ravens are 22nd in pass defense, allowing 242.1 yards per game, but they have done a pretty good job of limiting the damage done by individual receivers, especially considering that top cornerback Lardarius Webb is out for the season. Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker was the first player since Week 3 to top 100 receiving yards against the Ravens. I can see Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz making it two weeks in a row. He is coming off his lowest production of the season in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but he will be a tough matchup for the Ravens secondary, especially for Corey Graham, who will line up against Cruz in the slot.
2. SOMEONE ON THE RAVENS D WILL PICK OFF A PASS
Speaking of the Ravens secondary, the Ravens have not picked off a pass in their past two games and they only have one interception in their past four games. Overall, the Ravens defense has only four takeaways in their past four games and they gave the ball away six times over that span. No wonder they have lost three straight games and needed a football miracle to avoid a four-game losing streak. But Giants quarterback Eli Manning can be erratic at times -- he threw up two early interceptions last week -- and there will likely be opportunities for the Ravens to pick off a couple of his passes. I think they will get at least one interception.
3. DENNIS PITTA WILL BREAK TODD HEAP’S TD RECORD
Third-year tight end Dennis Pitta has been hit or miss with his production this season. He has eight games with at least five catches, but he has been held to two or fewer catches in four games. But if you add those totals up, you will see that he is having a fine season with 57 catches for 613 yards and seven touchdowns, including four in his past four games. He was a rare bright spot in the loss to the Broncos, catching seven balls for 125 yards and two touchdowns. If Pitta gets in the end zone again on Sunday, he will break Todd Heap's single-season franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end. Sorry, Todd, but your record is going down.
4. JOHN HARBAUGH GETS HIS FIRST HOME LOSS VS. THE NFC
The Ravens are going in the wrong direction right now, but they will get an opportunity to get back on track against the inconsistent Giants. The Ravens have won 12 straight home games against the NFC dating back to 2006, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 9-0 at home against NFC teams. But winning streaks are getting shattered left and right during the Ravens' three-game losing streak, and I can see the Giants breaking this one into splinters as well. The Ravens have reached their breaking point with injuries, and the offense is a mess. Even if they lose a fourth straight game, it would be nice if they put up a better fight than last week.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun