The Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions meet at Ford Field on Monday night in a battle of teams battling for an elusive postseason berth.
It won’t be an easy road back to the Super Bowl for the defending champs, who currently hold the final wild card spot in the AFC. They are tied with the Miami Dolphins at 7-6, but hold the tiebreaker because they won the head-to-head matchup. The Lions are tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears, and they also hold the tiebreaker, having beaten their rivals twice. The Lions have virtually no chance of winning a wild card spot if they can’t take the division crown, and the Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) could make the division a three-team race.
The contest will be a battle between a top offensive unit and one of the better defenses in the NFL. The Lions are ranked No. 1 in the conference in total offense, while the Ravens are eighth in the league in total points allowed.
The Detroit passing game has been a strong point this season, throwing for 297.2 yards per game behind Matthew Stafford. The quarterback’s favorite target, Calvin Johnson, is second in the league with 1,351 receiving yards and 12 scores. Johnson is considered by most experts to be the best player at his position. However, that hasn’t stopped one Ravens defender from expressing some rather negative statements about the 28-year-old.
"He's pretty old, so I don't know how physical he'll be," safety Matt Elam said of Johnson, according to the Detroit Free Press. "He's a big guy, but he's older. I guess when they get older they're not going to be as physical, you know what I'm saying? We're going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable."
Elam was taken with the final pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The rookie has started all but one game and made an impact in the Baltimore secondary. Still, he and the rest of the Ravens defenders will have a very tall order in front of them. If Johnson can record a 100-yard receiving game, he’ll set a record by doing so at least eight times three straight seasons.
"It doesn't surprise me because he don't have to see me on the field," Johnson said, via ESPN.com. "So he can talk all he wants. He plays back, and I don't see him every play unless I run past him. I'm not worried about it."
The running game for both teams could be lacking in this game. Reggie Bush has been good in his first year with the Lions, but he’s battling a calf injury. The ailment kept him off the field last week, and could do the same against the Ravens. He missed practice for most of the week, but did participate on Friday and is expected to suit up.
The Ravens have one of the most talented running backs in the league, but former Pro Bowler Ray Rice has been ineffective this season. That’s led to Baltimore being ranked 29th in rushing. In addition to the Ravens’ struggles on the ground, the Lions have done a good job of stopping opposing running backs. Joe Flacco may be forced to have a big game if he wants to keep his team in the postseason.
The Lions are pretty heavy favorites, considering they have the same record as the Ravens. The betting line at most Las Vegas casinos has Baltimore listed as six-point underdogs. The Ravens are undefeated at home, but they’ve struggled on the road. They have just one win straight up and against the point spread when playing away from M&T Bank Stadium
Betting Odds: Detroit -6, 48
Prediction: Detroit 30, Baltimore 20