Ravens run offense vs. Buccaneers run defense: The Ravens surprisingly didn't have great success against a poor run defense at Carolina, but they'll have another shot at one in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL, giving up 136.5 yards per game. They are coming off one of their best efforts last Sunday, when they held San Francisco's Frank Gore to 23 yards. Still, Tampa Bay has allowed a 100-yard rusher in six of its past eight games. Ravens running back Ray Rice has averaged 92 yards in four home games. But Rice, who had four 100-yard games last season, only has one this season. Tony Moll likely will make his second straight start at right guard for Chris Chester (infection in lower right leg), who didn't practice all week.
Ravens pass offense vs. Buccaneers pass defense: If the Ravens find success on the ground, they should be able to go over the top of the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has given up eight passes over 40 yards, which is tied for third-most in the league. Joe Flacco tied a season-high last Sunday with five completions over 20 yards. The key for the Ravens is not turning the ball over. The Buccaneers have 15 interceptions this season (only the Philadelphia Eagles have more). Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber have combined for eight interceptions. But Flacco hasn't thrown an interception at home this season (a span of 114 passes). Ravens left tackle Michael Oher will line up against Tampa Bay's sack leader is Stylez G. White, who has 4 ½. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has led the Ravens in receiving only once in the past three games.
Buccaneers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Ravens' up-and-down run defense needs to pack a punch against undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount. Ravens players compare the physical, 247-pound running back to Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, who ran for 144 yards against the Ravens earlier this year. Blount has established himself as Tampa Bay's featured back by averaging 82.2 yards over the past five games. Blount's four touchdowns are tied for the most among rookie running backs. The Ravens are tied for ninth in the NFL in run defense. Rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody looked ragged in his first career start last Sunday. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had a team-high 10 tackles at Carolina.
Buccaneers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Josh Freeman is showing maturation in two critical areas. The second-year starter is second in the NFC in fourth-quarter passer rating (96.1) and fourth in the conference on third downs (93.7 rating). Freeman has thrown multiple touchdowns in his past three games. Rookie wide receiver Mike Williams is averaging 15.8 yards per catch and has scored a touchdown in three of his past four games. Cornerback Josh Wilson has allowed a touchdown in his first two starts for the Ravens. The team's pass rush has been disappointing outside of Terrell Suggs, who has four sacks in his past three games. It'll be challenging to bring down the 6-6, 248-pound Freeman. Ravens safety Ed Reed has missed practice time because of an illness.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest disparity is in the kickers. The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has converted 14 of his past 15 field goals. He leads the NFL with 29 touchbacks. The Buccaneers' Connor Barth is 12 of 16 on the season, missing four of last 10 attempts. Both the Ravens and Tampa Bay rank near the bottom in punt return. Rookie David Reed provided the Ravens with their longest kickoff return (84 yards) last Sunday. The Buccaneers' Michael Spurlock ranks 14th in the NFL in kickoff returns.
INTANGIBLES: The Buccaneers have yet to beat a team with a winning record. Their three losses (Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Atlanta) have been by a margin of 18.6 points. The Ravens have won seven straight at M&T Bank Stadium, the NFL's longest current home streak (including playoffs). The Ravens' offense has averaged 32.8 points at home since Dec. 13, 2009 – the second-most in the NFL during that time. With the Steelers looming next week, the Ravens have to make sure they don't look past Tampa Bay.
Prediction: The Buccaneers have been the NFL's biggest surprise, but they're not in the Ravens' class yet. Rice's elusiveness and Flacco's big arm hits Tampa Bay in its weakest spots. The Bucs get stopped here.