The Ravens are on a roll and so am I. Last week, as they picked up a second straight win by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, I nailed two of my predictions — and it would have been three if not for a hard hit and faulty chin strap. It's about time I started getting some of these right. So as the Ravens look to keep it going against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings, I hope to do the same with these bold predictions.
1. BOTH TEAMS WILL RUSH FOR 100-PLUS YARDS:
The Vikings are sixth in the NFL in rushing, mainly because their three favorite plays are "Peterson left," "Peterson right" and "Peterson up the middle." Peterson leads the league with 1,208 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, and he has five games with at least 100 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Ray Rice has not duplicated the numbers he put up three weeks ago in Chicago, but I like his chances for a solid game against Minnesota's 23rd-ranked run defense. Look for both teams to top 100 rushing yards, though Rice will get some help from Bernard Pierce.
2. TORREY SMITH WILL CATCH A 50-YARD BOMB:
The Ravens are finally clicking with their deep passing game after Joe Flacco wasn't connecting with his wide receivers for much of the season. He had two pass plays of 60 or more yards two weeks ago and he found Torrey Smith for a 54-yard reception in last week's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Vikings have been awful against the pass and they allowed two long passing touchdowns in their win over the Bears last week, so watch out for bombs over Baltimore on Sunday. Flacco and Smith will team up for another big play against the Vikings, but this time Smith will get into the end zone.
The Ravens have yet to allow a kickoff return this season, in large part due to kicker Justin Tucker booming a bunch of touchbacks early in the season. But that shutout streak will be in jeopardy Sunday. Vikings rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson leads the NFL in kickoff return average and he has taken a pair of kickoffs to the house, including a record-tying one that spanned 109 yards. The Ravens would be wise to keep the ball out of his hands, but the weather won't allow it, as Tucker's touchback percentage has dipped along with the temperatures these past several weeks.
The Ravens have been tight-lipped about the availability of Dennis Pitta for Sunday's game, but the gut feeling here is that the tight end — or is he a slot receiver? — will make his season debut, just over four months after he hurt his hip early in training camp. If Pitta plays, they may choose to ease him into live contact by only limiting his participation to certain packages and personnel groupings. But count on him being a factor in the red zone, where the Ravens have struggled in recent weeks. Flacco loves throwing Pitta's way inside the 20, so look for those two to hook up for a touchdown.