Ravens run offense vs. Panthers run defense: Ravens running back Ray Rice was held to 59 yards rushing, his lowest total in six weeks, against a tough run defense in Atlanta. The run defense won't be as challenging at Carolina, which has the sixth-worst in the NFL, giving up 131.6 yards per game. When Rice has played run defenses ranking in the bottom third of the league, he gained 133 yards against Denver and 72 yards against Buffalo. This could be the week where Willis McGahee gets back involved. He's carried the ball a total of nine times the past two weeks. The Panthers' Jon Beason struggled last week in his first game replacing injured Dan Connor (hip) at middle linebacker. Three running backs (Matt Forte, Frank Gore and LeGarrette Blount) have gained over 90 yards against the Panthers in the past five games. Right guard Chris Chester, who was hospitalized Thursday night with a skin condition, is questionable and would be replaced by Tony Moll.
Ravens pass offense vs. Panthers pass defense: Over his past four games, Joe Flacco has averaged 254 yards passing, throwing 10 touchdowns and one interception. He'll likely have to work the middle of the field because Carolina cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall have been solid. Last Sunday, the Panthers allowed Tampa Bay Buccaneers' tight ends Kellen Winslow and John Gilmore to catch a combined nine passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. Ravens tight end Todd Heap has scored eight touchdowns in his past 12 games. Carolina strong safety Charles Godfrey leads the Panthers with four interceptions. Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin has averaged seven catches and 79.2 yards receiving in five career games against Carolina. Left tackle Michael Oher struggled against Panthers end Tyler Brayton this preseason.
Panthers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Third-string running back Mike Goodson is expected to make his second start because DeAngelo Williams (foot sprain) has been placed on injured reserve and Jonathan Stewart ( concussion) has been declared out. Goodson is coming off a 100-yard game, the first by a Panthers running back this season. The Ravens seem to have patched up their run defense. They held Atlanta running back Michael Turner to 39 yards. Ray Lewis and teammates have limited teams to under 100 yards rushing in four of their past six games. Carolina left guard Travelle Wharton ( turf toe) has been ruled out and will be replaced by Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Panthers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: With Matt Moore (shoulder) on injured reserve and Jimmy Clausen (concussion) ruled out, the Panthers surprisingly turned to journeyman third-stringer Brian St. Pierre to start at quarterback over rookie sixth-round pick Tony Pike. St. Pierre's experience consists of two games over seven seasons, which is another sign revealing the extent of Carolina's desperation. As a result, wide receiver Steve Smith has struggled and has been held to 50 yards receiving or fewer in five of his eight games. This has the makings of a game where the Ravens secondary can regain its confidence. Quarterbacks have averaged 307 yards passing against the Ravens over the past five games. Josh Wilson is expected to make his second start for the Ravens at cornerback. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has 4 1/2 sacks in five road games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens' punt and kickoff return teams both rank in the bottom third of the NFL. Rookie kickoff returner David Reed was given a vote of confidence by special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, and Lardarius Webb should get another shot at returning punts (although Donte' Stallworth appears to be waiting in the wings). The Panthers' coverage teams both rank in the top 10 in the NFL. Carolina punt returner Captain Munnerlyn is 11th in the NFL with a 10.4-yard average. Panthers kicker John Kasay is 13 of 15 on field goals this season, hitting three beyond 50 yards. The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has made 11 of his past 12 field goals.
INTANGIBLES: The Ravens lost at Atlanta in a heartbreaking finish, but they've shown the ability to rebound strong. They've won the next game after each of their last seven regular-season losses. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 13-1 against teams with losing records and 9-0 when favored by double digits. It's unlikely that the Ravens will overlook the one-win Panthers after last month's overtime scare to the previously winless Buffalo Bills. Carolina has been decimated by injuries, listing 10 players on the injury report (that's in addition to putting Moore and Williams on IR). The Panthers are the only NFL team that the Ravens haven't beaten in the regular season or the playoffs. But Carolina, which is tied for the league lead in turning the ball over, could give this one away.
Prediction: The Panthers are starting their third-string quarterback behind a second-rate offensive line. Here's more bad news for the NFL's worst offense: A proud Ravens defense is seething after a run of fourth-quarter collapses. If the Ravens don't record a shutout Sunday, they never will this season.