Ravens run offense vs. Bills run defense
This has been the weak link for Buffalo, which has the fourth-worst run defense in the league. The Bills are allowing 142.9 yards per game on the ground. Buffalo has given up 100 yards to a running back in three of its past five games, including 135 last Sunday to Travis Henry. But Ravens running back Jamal Lewis has been ordinary this season, averaging 3.6 yards a carry (38th in the NFL). In five games against run defenses ranked in the bottom 10, Lewis has gained more than 85 yards three times. The only positive for Lewis recently has been his effectiveness in the red zone, where he has scored seven touchdowns in the past six games.
Ravens pass offense vs. Bills pass defense
The pivotal matchup is Ravens left tackle Adam Terry, who is making his second career start in place of the injured Jonathan Ogden (toe), against the Bills' Aaron Schobel. The Pro Bowl defensive end is third in the NFL with 14 sacks, including at least a half-sack in six straight games. The Bills, who are ranked seventh against the pass, can be tough to throw against, but they are known to give up big plays. In his past two full games, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair has completed seven passes of more than 20 yards. Receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams have combined for four touchdowns in the past three weeks.
Bills run offense vs. Ravens run defense
The Bills' philosophy is to rely heavily on the run and take deep shots when they lure safeties into the box. But establishing a running game against the Ravens is an extreme challenge. With linebacker Ray Lewis in the starting lineup, the Ravens haven't allowed 100 yards to a running back in 14 home games. The last running back to do so at M&T; Bank Stadium was the Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes on Oct. 4, 2004. Buffalo running back Willis McGahee has averaged 80.4 yards on the road this season but has scored only once in five road games. (He missed two games in November with injuries). He is fighting both rib and ankle injuries. Tight end Brad Cieslak will replace blocking FB Daimon Shelton (concussion).
Bills pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense
Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman has been on a hot streak lately, throwing six touchdowns and two interceptions in his past three games. But the Ravens are one of the best defenses in terms of rattling quarterbacks. In their past three games, the Ravens have recorded six interceptions and 16 sacks. Only three passes of more than 25 yards have been completed against them in that span. The biggest difference in Losman away from home is the vertical game. He has nine passes over 20 yards on the road, compared to 23 at home. Lee Evans, who leads the Bills with seven touchdowns, is their best deep threat.
The Bills' coverage teams both rank in the top half of the NFL and they have two of the most dangerous returners. Terrence McGee is fourth in the league in kickoff returns (26.6-yard average) and Roscoe Parrish is second in punt returns (11.7). New Ravens return specialist Cory Ross has struggled to make any solid runbacks. Ravens rookie punter Sam Koch is 13th in the NFL in net average (37.5 yards), and Buffalo's Brian Moorman is second (39.5). Ravens special teams ace Gary Stills needs five tackles to break the NFL's single-season record (46).
The Ravens know a victory secures a first-round bye in the playoffs, which has been a goal for the entire month. The Bills were eliminated from the postseason last Sunday when they were upset at home by the Tennessee Titans. Dating to 2005, the Ravens have won nine of their past 11 home games. Under Brian Billick, the Ravens are 4-0 when ending the regular season at home. Buffalo is 3-4 on the road this season, winning their past two (at Houston and at the New York Jets).
If this game were truly determined by motivation, the Ravens would win in a rout. But the Bills will play harder than most - including the Ravens - expect. A defensive touchdown by the Ravens saves the No. 2 seed.
Today, 4:15 p.m. -- M&T; Bank Stadium-- Chs. 13, 9 -- 1090 AM, 97.9 FM -- Line: Ravens by 9 1/2