The Ravens snapped a three-game losing streak last week, but many of the same issues lingered in their overtime win, none more critical than the running game. They have topped 100 yards on the ground just once, but my crystal ball tells me that their 2.8-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust rushing attack will show signs of life against the Chicago Bears. A legitimate running game? This might be my boldest prediction yet.
1. BERNARD PIERCE WILL TAKE OVER THE BACKFIELD:
The running game has been a mess all season and both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have seemingly been slowed by injuries. In last week's win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Rice had just 30 yards on 18 carries while Pierce impressed in limited action. On Monday, coach John Harbaugh said that Rice would start against the Bears, but he also said he would go with the hot hand if one of the running backs got into a groove. Look for Pierce to get into a groove against the NFL's 31st-ranked rushing defense. Rice may start the game, but it will be Pierce who finishes strong in a Ravens victory.
2. CHICAGO'S RECEIVER TANDEM WILL TOP 200 YARDS:
Outside of a pair of long receptions on tipped passes, the Ravens secondary fared well against wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals, picking off three passes and getting their hands on many others. But they are in for another challenge against the Bears, whose dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery has more yards than any receiving tandem in the league. Those two have combined for 107 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. On Sunday, the Ravens will allow Marshall and Jeffery to top 200 yards combined, but if they keep them out of the end zone they should be OK.
3. THE BEARS DEFENSE WILL FORCE A PAIR OF FUMBLES:
With Brian Urlacher retired and Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Henry Melton injured, the Bears defense is not what it used to be. They rank near the bottom of the league in total defense, rush defense, pass defense and points allowed, but they are still good at generating turnovers, especially forced fumbles. The Bears lead the NFL with 17 forced fumbles. They have recovered eight of them, including one for a touchdown. It has been a while since Rice coughed the ball up, but he should be on alert Sunday. Ditto for quarterback Joe Flacco, who lost a fumble against the Bengals.
4. MATT ELAM WILL GET HIS FIRST NFL INTERCEPTION:
Back in Week 4, before the Ravens played the Buffalo Bills, I predicted in this space that rookie free safety Matt Elam would get his first career interception. So much for that. Seven weeks later, Elam is still looking to pick one off, so I'm going back to the well again. As Elam has gotten more comfortable, we are seeing him around the ball more and more. Last Sunday, he nearly picked one pass off. It deflected off his hands, though it went directly to fellow safety James Ihedigbo. Elam is getting closer and closer and I'm guessing he will finally get one against Bears backup Josh McCown.