Ravens (4-8) at Broncos (9-3)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.
RB Jamal Lewis: Figures that in this most maddening of seasons, Lewis would follow up his first 100-yard outing with a 17-yard dud against the NFL's worst run defense. Yep, that new contract should get done any day now. If Lewis had trouble finding daylight against the Texans, wait until he runs up against the NFL's best run defense on Sunday in Denver. Best to leave him on the bench. That seems to be the Ravens solution. Rating: 1 out of 5.
RB Chester Taylor: The Ravens want to get a look at what Taylor can do, but they won't like what they see, at least not against the Broncos. Taylor's a fan favorite, but it's hard to ignore his Lewis-like 2.85 yards-per-carry average in his past four games. The offensive line gets the bulk of the blame for that one, but Taylor gets a vote of no confidence for a game in which the Ravens will fall behind early. Rating: 1 out of 5.
QB Kyle Boller: His stock is on the rise after David Carr proved that there is at least one QB in ths league worse off than Boller. Look out, Orton - Boller's closing fast, and, remarkably, he's still on his feet! Kidding aside, Boller has been serviceable for fantasy purposes in the past three weeks. Much as he did two weeks ago in Cincy, he'll total a pair of TDs against the Broncos disinterested defense, just enough to salvage a respectable stat line. Rating: 2 out of 5.
WR Derrick Mason: Mason's production has dropped off in recent weeks, a slide that coincides with Boller's return. The duo didn't appear to have much on-field chemistry during the preseason, and two drops by Mason last week didn't do anything to improve the relationship. Five catches and 50 yards sounds about right. Rating: 2 out of 5.
TE Todd Heap: If the Ravens offense included nothing but jump-ball passes to Heap, oh, what a merry Christmas it would be. Heap helped bail the Ravens out last week with an impressive catch on a seam route on the game-winning drive, and he's clearly Boller's favorite target. The Broncos have given up a TE touchdown in each of their past two games. Rating: 4 out of 5.
PK Matt Stover: Stover did it again last week, kicking the Ravens to victory with a 38-yard field goal. But Denver has surrendered a league-low 11 field goals, so this doesn't shape up as a great week for Stover. Rating: 3 out of 5.
Ravens defense: The Ravens got some good vibes going last week against the Texans, but that loving feeling isn't likely to last in Denver's rarified air. The Broncos come into the game with the league's fifth-best offense in terms of total yardage, bad news for a Ravens unit that lost Ray Lewis for the season this week and could be without Tony Weaver and Chris McAlister for the second game in a row.
Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is having the best year of his career. He ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating, but he has thrown three interceptions in his past two games after not throwing any for eight games. Rod Smith (63 catches, 802 yards, 5 TDs) remains his top target. Ashley Lelie has been a huge disappointment with just one TD and no 100-yard games this season.
But the Ravens should be more concerned about how they're going to slow down the NFL's second-best running attack (162.8 ypg), particularly considering what Houston's Domanick Davis did to them a week ago. Baltimore misses Lewis and Will Demps in the middle, and that's where the Broncos will attack with Mike Anderson, who has scored nine times in his past seven games. Tatum Bell gives Denver an outside running threat and does a terrific job of maximizing his few carries, as his 6.2 yards per carry average indicates. Thanksgiving hero Ron Dayne looks like the odd man out in this crowded backfield. Rating: 2 out of 5.
Ravens: OUT: RB Justin Green (wrist); LB Ray Lewis (thigh); LB Mike Smith (thigh). DOUBTFUL: DE Anthony Weaver (back). QUESTIONABLE: T Orlando Brown (back); CB Chris McAlister (thigh); G Edwin Mulitalo (knee); G Keydrick Vincent (thigh). PROBABLE: CB Dale Carter (back); C Mike Flynn (hip); LB Adalius Thomas (back).
Broncos: QUESTIONABLE: DE Courtney Brown (knee); LB Keith Burns (knee); T Cornell Green (shoulder). PROBABLE: S Sam Brandon (thigh).