In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don’t hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
Before the 8-2 Ravens play the 4-6 San Diego Chargers out on the West Coast on Sunday, my confidence level in regards to whether they fly back across the country with a victory is somewhere in the middle of the scale.
On one hand, the Ravens have won consecutive road games for the first time since late in the 2010 season, and they can make it three in a row against a Chargers team with a bunch of issues and not much momentum to speak for. But on the other, the Ravens had trouble moving the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend and they barely beat a backup quarterback who was playing with broken ribs and a banged-up shoulder.
In my gut, this one is a coin flip -- and it hasn't landed yet. One minute, I believe the Ravens will keep it going against an inferior team. The next, I remember how sluggish the Ravens offense has been away from M&T; Bank Stadium. When it was time to make my pick for the newspaper, I went with the Chargers, but today, I’m not so sure. At least I’m feeling confident in my four predictions sure to go wrong this week.
1. JOE FLACCO WILL THROW FOR LESS THAN 200 YARDS
It has been more than two months since Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for at least 200 yards on the road. He threw for 187 yards in Kansas City, 147 in Houston, 153 in Cleveland, and 164 in Pittsburgh in last weekend's 13-10 win. Also troubling is that he hasn't thrown for more than one touchdown in a road game this season, but that’s a concern -- and maybe a prediction -- for another day. Flacco will have opportunities to throw the ball against the Chargers, who are third in the NFL in rush defense but are 19th against the pass, allowing 236 passing yards per game. Still, considering his performance at Heinz Field, I’ll take the under on this one.
2. THE CHARGERS WILL GET THEIR FIRST 100-YARD RUSHER
The Chargers enter Sunday's game 23rd in rushing, averaging 100.3 per game (that's actually more than what the Ravens are averaging, by the way). Interestingly enough, the Chargers have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season. Running back Ryan Mathews, a disappointing 2010 first-round pick, came close in Week 8, but he finished 5 yards short of 100. I think if the Chargers stick with Mathews and the ground game, he will get there Sunday. The Ravens defense is improving -- the return of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been a big factor -- but they are still vulnerable against the run. They allowed 5 yards per carry against the Steelers.
3. TERRELL SUGGS TAKES DOWN THE QUARTERBACK AGAIN
Speaking of Suggs, he is clearly trying to regain the explosiveness he lost when he tore his right Achilles tendon in late April. He hasn’t recorded a sack since he got one in his Week 7 return, and he lost a foot race to Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich last Sunday. But the Chargers offensive line is a mess, maybe the NFL’s worst in pass protection. I think Suggs will break through and sack quarterback Philip Rivers at least once.
4. THE RAVENS WON’T WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE SUNDAY
The Chargers have turned the ball over 22 times -- including 14 interceptions from Rivers -- this season, which is tied for second-most in the AFC. But they have also come up with 19 takeaways, fewer than only three teams in the conference, including the Ravens. The Ravens have a plus-12 turnover differential, but if it takes them a couple of quarters to get used to West Coast time, I can see them coughing the ball up a couple of times -- we'll say an interception and a fumble. The turnover battle could decide Sunday’s game. We’ll see if my gut is right about this one.