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NFL Preview - Chicago (5-8) at Baltimore (7-6)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Baltimore Ravens know that if they are to make the postseason, they'll need a bit of help from some other clubs. They also know that they need to do their part on the field.
Baltimore will try to keep its playoff hopes alive this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium versus a Chicago Bears team that will miss the postseason for a third straight campaign.
Splitting their last six games has made the Ravens' climb to the second season much more steeper, but the club is not out of it yet. They are one of four 7-6 teams that are tied for the AFC's second Wild Card spot, along with Jacksonville, Miami and the New York Jets. Denver holds the conference's first Wild Card position at 8-5.
Winning each of its final three games would give Baltimore a chance to reach the playoffs if it got a little help. The Ravens are staring at three winnable games, including this Sunday's matchup versus the 5-8 Bears that precedes road games with the 6-7 Pittsburgh Steelers and 4-9 Oakland Raiders.
Baltimore will also be eliminated from AFC North title contention with its next loss or a victory by first-place Cincinnati.
The Ravens come into this test with a load of momentum, as they followed up a disappointing 27-14 loss to Green Bay in Week 13 with a 48-3 thrashing of the Lions this past weekend.
After managing just 185 yards of offense versus the Packers, the Ravens set club single-game records for total yards (548) and rushing touchdowns (5). Ray Rice had one of those scores with a 59-yard touchdown run, while running back Willis McGahee scored twice on the ground. Le'Ron McClain and backup quarterback Troy Smith also had rushing scores.
Baltimore's 48 points and 45-point margin of victory also equaled club records first set in a 48-3 triumph over Green Bay on December 19, 2005.
The Ravens' defense also limited the Lions to 229 total yards despite safety Ed Reed missing his second game in a row due to nagging groin and foot issues. However, linebacker Terrell Suggs returned from a three-game absence because of a knee issue.
The Ravens may look to keep up the run attack versus a Bears club that was pounded for 146 yards rushing by Green Bay in a 21-14 loss last Sunday. The bulk of that came on the Packers' first play from scrimmage, when running back Ryan Grant went through the Chicago defense for a 62-yard touchdown run.
The Bears battled back to take a 14-13 lead, but quarterback Jay Cutler's second interception -- and league-leading 22nd of the season -- set up a go- ahead touchdown by Green Bay early in the fourth quarter.
The loss was Chicago's fifth in six games and assured the club that it would miss the playoffs for a third straight season since its Super Bowl XLI loss to Indianapolis. That isn't exactly what the Bears had in mind when they traded for Cutler in the offseason.
The Bears own a 2-1 lead in their all-time series with the Ravens, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 10-6 home victory when the teams last met, in 2005. Baltimore won the previous meeting, a 17-6 home decision in 2001. Chicago is 0-1 against the Ravens in Charm City and is 0-5 there since beating the Colts at Memorial Stadium in 1965.
The Bears' Lovie Smith is 1-0 against the Ravens as a head coach, while Baltimore's John Harbaugh will be meeting both Smith and Chicago for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
Big things were expected by the Bears' offense with the addition of Cutler (3023 passing yards, 19 TD) and a second season out of playmaking running back Matt Forte, but instead Chicago's offense ranks 22nd in points (19.0 ppg), 24th in passing yards per game (219.2) and dead last in rushing offense (85.8 ypg). Forte (685 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 4 TD) was held to just 51 yards on 12 carries versus Green Bay and has only one 100-yard rushing game this season after having three last year. It hasn't helped that Cutler has turned the ball over at a rapid pace this season, as he has six multi-interception contests. With wide receiver Devin Hester (54 receptions, 3 TD) out last weekend due to a calf injury, Devin Aromashodu made his first start of the season and ended with a team-high eight catches for 76 yards. He also hauled in one of Cutler's two touchdown passes, with Johnny Knox (41 receptions, 5 TD) grabbing the other one. Knox ended with five catches for 83 yards, while tight end Greg Olsen (51 receptions, 6 TD) had two for 14 yards.
Cutler's interception total could get another bump this weekend, as the Ravens are tied for sixth in the NFL with 16 picks, though their 23 sacks is just tied for 24th. Detroit managed to post 103 rushing yards versus Baltimore, which ranks sixth versus the run (97.8 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (16.8 ppg). Cutler will need to be on extra guard if Reed (45 tackles, 3 INT) can return to action. The five-time Pro Bowl selection has 46 interceptions in his career and six defensive touchdowns. Tom Zbikowski (19 tackles, 2 INT) started in Reed's place versus the Lions and finished with three tackles and an interception, while Suggs (46 tackles, 3.5 sacks) ended with four stops. Linebacker Ray Lewis (108 tackles, 2 sacks) led the Ravens with nine tackles and both cornerback Lardarius Webb (32 tackles, 1 sack) and linebacker Jameel McClain (26 tackles) had seven. Corner Chris Carr (26 tackles, 2 INT) picked up Baltimore's other interception and linebacker Antwan Barnes recorded the team's lone sack.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Thanks to the emergence of Rice (1041 rushing yards, 8 total TD), the Ravens are averaging 127.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks eighth in the NFL. Rice himself went over 1,000 rushing yards in a season for the first time and leads the club with 68 catches for another 652 yards. Rice ran for a career-high 166 yards versus the Lions, and his 204 first-half yards from scrimmage helped Baltimore take a 20-3 halftime lead. Quarterback Joe Flacco (3111 passing yards, 15 TD, 11 INT) was limited to 137 yards passing with three picks versus the Packers, but bounced back last week to complete 13- of-20 throws for 230 yards with a 62-yard touchdown catch-and-run to Derrick Mason (59 receptions, 6 TD). Mason ended with five catches for 94 yards in the game. The Ravens now rank ninth in the NFL in scoring offense (24.5 ppg) thanks to last weekend's explosion, while their 355.4 total yards per game are 12th. Wide receiver Demetrius Williams chipped in with two catches for 45 yards last week, while tight end Todd Heap (44 receptions, 2 TD) had two for 38.
The Bears will look to slow down Rice just one week after failing to contain Green Bay's Grant, who ended with 137 yards and two scores on the ground. Chicago also failed to contain Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who made five catches for 70 yards. Defensive tackle Anthony Adams (34 tackles, 2 sacks) hasn't started since Week 7 versus Cincinnati, but he could get the nod over Marcus Harrison (20 tackles, 1 sack) this weekend after making six tackles versus Green Bay and drawing Lovie Smith's praise after the game. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (62 tackles, 1 INT) led the Bears with seven tackles, while safeties Kevin Payne (41 tackles) and Al Afalava (50 tackles, 2 sacks) made six each. Linebacker Lance Briggs (87 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (19 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) each had a sack versus the Packers. Once feared for their ability to stop the run, the Bears rank 24th in that category this year (127.9 ypg), though they are eighth in defending the pass (201.8 ypg). Chicago is also allowing 22.4 points per game, ranked 21st in the NFL.
Forte will likely finish the season as one of, if not the, biggest first-round busts of the fantasy world. The Ravens make it a habit of keeping opposing running backs under 100 yards, and Forte isn't likely to find the end zone this weekend either. Cutler's turnovers have frustrated owners all year, but the Bears will likely have to keep it in the air versus the Ravens. A couple of picks aren't out of the question, though. Knox and Olsen are Chicago receivers that could get a look, while kicker Robbie Gould hasn't gotten a lot of attempts this year. Avoid the Chicago defense as well.
Rice is a must-start and will likely rack up the yardage again this weekend. His ability to make plays in the passing game give Flacco's value a boost as well. Mason and Heap should both get looks, with Heap a good candidate after witnessing Chicago's inability to stop Finley last Sunday. Kicker Billy Cundiff has missed two of his 11 field goal tries in four games with the Ravens and has hit all 10 of his extra points. Baltimore's defense should be in line for a few turnovers, making it a strong play.
The Ravens have at times this season looked like legitimate playoff contenders (see wins over San Diego, Denver and Pittsburgh), but have also dropped some close games that have raised doubts. Baltimore is coming off a big relaxing win and should have all the motivation to beat a Bears club that is playing for pride and jobs in 2010. The Ravens need this home game and should have no problem getting through Chicago's struggling defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 27, Bears 16
12/17 18:23:12 ET
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