The Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings will be walking in a winter wonderland when they face off at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but don’t expect that to change either one of these teams’ philosophies.
Traditionally, both of these franchises have relied on running the football and playing good defense, while getting manageable performances from the quarterback positions. Baltimore hasn’t been able to run the football most of the season and even though they are facing a weak defense in the Vikings, don’t expect them to automatically shell out a better performance.
Joe Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the game today, and adverse conditions are something that doesn’t always deter his performance. Minnesota will stick with the ground game as they have Adrian Peterson … wouldn’t you?
Christian Ponder is out at quarterback as Matt Cassel will be under center for the Vikings. This could open things up for the Ravens defensively as they will be using more players in the box already to corral Peterson in the ground game. With more players along the line of scrimmage, expect the Ravens to bring more pressure after the quarterback and finish off plays better than they have recently.
Baltimore was without a sack last week against Ben Roethlisberger, and they hope to change that number this week. The Ravens enter the game with 37 sacks as a team. That number is the third-highest mark in franchise history through 12 games of the regular season. However, the task could be somewhat more difficult as Elvis Dumervil is not expected to play in this one as he continues to be hampered with an ankle injury he suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Terrell Suggs will have to be big in this one as he has somewhat tapered off from his MVP-like pace from the first half of this season. In addition to Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the big uglies in the middle must hold their ground against the sixth-ranked rushing attack of the Vikings. It’s essentially their only weapon, so the front seven must dig in deep and realize that even though the conditions are poor, they were going to get a heavy dosage of Peterson regardless.
Offensively, Baltimore can look to establish the run, but the way to beat this Vikings team is through the air. The 30th-ranked pass defense has just eight interceptions as a team this season, and only three by defensive backs. Mother Nature may pose more of a threat than Minnesota, but look for Flacco to test the waters with the deep ball to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones a few times to break this game open from the jump.
Plus, as good as Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been — he’s missed just two field goals this season and has converted on 27 successful attempts in a row — the snow and wind are always tough to kick in, so the Ravens will have to find new ways to sustain drives. Having Dennis Pitta back in the lineup at tight end may be just what the doctor ordered.
One thing the Ravens have to do in order to win is finish. Whether it’s drives, red zone opportunities, third downs or simply not letting Minnesota hang around, Baltimore has to avoid this trap game before their big showdown versus the Detroit Lions on the road next Monday night.
I anticipate the Ravens winning this one, but don’t expect it to be pretty as none of the games have been this season.
Score Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 20 — Minnesota Vikings 10