NFL Preview - Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Serious postseason implications will be in play when the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens pay a visit to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions on "Monday Night Football"
Both the Ravens and Lions remain in control of their own playoff destinies entering the contest but any slip-up by either could prove fatal.
Baltimore, which currently holds the sixth and final postseason spot in the AFC, needed three touchdowns in the final 2:05 last week to knock off Minnesota in a game which featured five lead changes in the final 125 seconds.
Conversely, with three weeks to play, Detroit and Chicago are tied atop the NFC North with 7-6 records after the Lions were beaten in Philadelphia last week. Detroit still holds the tie-breaker by virtue of sweeping the season series.
The Lions, however, really haven't been able to take advantage of the injuries to Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler or Green Bay pilot Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are just one-half game back in the division.
Detroit, which is searching for its first division crown since 1993, has lost three of four overall, including last week's 34-20 "Snow Bowl" setback in Philly. The Lions led 14-6 heading to the fourth quarter but allowed the Eagles to score four TDs in the final frame.
Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy carried the ball 29 times for a franchise-record 217 yards and scored two of the Eagles' four fourth-quarter touchdowns, as the Eagles rallied for the victory.
"Records are made to be broken and it was standing for so long," McCoy said of breaking Steve Van Buren's record of 205 yards set back in 1949. "This is the craziest game I've played in. The best one too."
Snow started falling in the hours leading up to kickoff and remained constant for much of the game, leaving both high-powered offenses hampered.
Trailing 14-6 to start the fourth, Philadelphia turned to its ground game, with McCoy scoring from 40 and 57 yards out around a 98-yard kickoff return from Detroit's Jeremy Ross.
Matthew Stafford completed only 10-of-25 passes for 148 yards, while Joique Bell carried the ball 23 times for 69 yards and a touchdown for Detroit, which will still win the NFC North if it takes its final three games.
"I don't think it had anything to do with the weather," Stafford said of his second-half struggles. "It was more that we didn't play well. We didn't play well enough in the second half to get the win."
After Monday's game the Lions will finish with games against the New York Giants and at Minnesota, two non-playoff clubs.
"We'll just take this slap in the face and hope it wakes us up," cornerback Chris Houston said. "We have two straight home games and we have to go get them. We can't get down on ourselves. We are still in a good position in our division."
Baltimore, which can also earn a postseason spot by winning its final three contests, is coming off a snowy win of its own in a game that featured five lead changes in the waning moments.
Marlon Brown caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with four seconds left on the clock, capping a back-and-forth final two minutes and giving the Ravens a dramatic 29-26 win over the Vikings.
Baltimore's third straight win helped the team keep pace in the wild-card race with Miami, which held off the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. The Ravens hold the tie-breaker over the Dolphins because of a 26-23 win at Miami in Week 5.
"Will we ever see a game like that again?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh asked. "You got to credit both teams, credit to the Vikings. Leslie Frazier is doing a tremendous job coaching that football team."
Dennis Pitta, playing in his first game of the season after returning from a dislocated hip, caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:07 to play in the game and Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 2-point conversion as the Ravens (7-6) took a 15-12 advantage.
Minnesota wasted no time coming back, scoring in just two plays. Matt Cassel hit Jerome Simpson for 27 yards on first down to the Baltimore 41, and Toby Gerhart broke numerous tackles as he rumbled up the middle on the following play to put Minnesota back up in front, 19-15, with 1:27 on the clock.
Blair Walsh pooched the ensuing kickoff to Jacoby Jones, who caught the short kick and raced 77 yards down the sideline to return serve with 1:16 to play.
Following two incompletions from Cassel, Cordarrelle Patterson caught a wide- receiver screen, followed a convoy of blockers and his speed did the rest as he scampered into the end zone for a 79-yard score.
The final Baltimore TD was aided by a dubious 18-yard pass interference penalty on Chad Greenway. Pitta caught an 18-yard pass two plays later and Brown ended it with a beautiful grab in the back of the end zone on the following play.
Flacco threw for 245 yards on 28-of-50 passing with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Brown finished with seven receptions for 92 yards and the triumphant touchdown.
The Ravens' sked is difficult down the stretch, however. Baltimore finishes with three division leaders, at Detroit, vs. New England and at Cincinnati in Week 17.
Baltimore has won two of its three meetings with the Lions and routed them 48-3 in the most recent one on Dec. 13, 2009. The Ravens, though, are making only their second trip to the Motor City and were beaten in the other one, a 35-17 rout on Oct. 9, 2005.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Lions hate the narrative that they are a talented but undisciplined team that makes dumb mistakes. Instead of disproving that theory by playing clean football, however, Detroit has committed five turnovers during the fourth quarter of its last three losses and has 20 total giveaways over its last six games, a disastrous 3.33 per game.
"It's tough to win football games when you turn the ball over," said Stafford, who has nine miscues himself over the past four games. "We know that. We're doing everything that we can to correct it."
On the other hand, the Ravens really haven't been able to take it away recently, amassing just four takeaways in their last four contests. The potential return of star pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who sat out against the Vikings with a balky left ankle, could help because Stafford will take chances, especially when pressured to throw from odd arm angles.
"We're starting to get healthier. We're starting to put it together as a team," Flacco said. "We just need to start putting it together for a full 60 minutes and see where it takes us
That health includes getting Pitta back, perhaps Flacco's top third-down option and chain-mover.
"It was special for me to be able to not only take the field, but to be able to contribute like that," Pitta said of his return against Minnesota. "It's been a lot of hard work going into that, a lot of patience at the same time."
Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam may have made things a little tougher for his team, though, by taking a shot at All-Pro Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
"He's pretty old, so I don't know how physical he'll be," Elam said. "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."
"It's all good," Johnson countered. "I'll show him what that old man's strength about, though. 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."
Johnson needs just seven receiving yards to become the first player in NFL history to record 5,000 over any three-season span. He also has nine 100-yard performances in his past 10 games against AFC foes, averaging 140.4 yards in those games.
The Lions could also get a boost from the return of running back Reggie Bush, who sat out in Philadelphia with a calf injury.
"I feel good," Bush said. "It's honestly never happened to me before. I never missed a game for a pulled muscle. I look forward to getting back this week."
It's really tough to count on Detroit to perform at a high level any week. There is just too much inconsistency and a real lack of attention to detail in the organization, which starts with head coach Jim Schwartz and Stafford, who remains a mechanically flawed player seemingly unwilling to work on his deficiencies.
That said Baltimore is what it is, a 6-1 team at home and a 1-5 club away from the Charm City. Geography could be the difference in this one.
"I think we've won the close games at home and we haven't won them on the road. That's the bottom line," Harbaugh said. "We've done the things we needed to do to win tight games at home and we haven't done the things we've needed to do on the road. It's us."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 31, Ravens 23
12/13 12:53:52 ET