Lions head to Baltimore with playoff hopes on thin ice

The Detroit Lions home loss against the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving all but locked up a NFC North division championship for the Vikings, who sit at 9-2. That makes The path to the playoffs for the Detroit Lions a lot more difficult. Trailing Carolina, Atlanta, and Seattle in the NFC Wild Card race, the Lions cannot afford to lose many, if any, games at this season. This makes Sunday’s road tilt versus Baltimore a must-win.

This will be Detroit and Baltimore’s first meeting since 2013 and the first in Baltimore since 2009. The Ravens are in the thick of the Wild Card race in the AFC, at 6-5. The similarities between the two teams don’t go much further than that, though.

The internet loves to debate whether or not Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is “elite”, but this season, he’s been anything but. Flacco has thrown 11 interceptions and  a dismal 9 touchdown passes, while his 1,875 passing yards are by-far the lowest total in the league for quarterbacks who have started every game.

The Ravens wide receivers have underperformed this season, coupled with Flacco’s ineptitude throwing the ball has resulted in the league’s worst passing offense. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, is averaging the fewest yards per catch of his career,10.9, By comparison, Lions No. 1wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. is averaging 16.6 yards per catch.

Former big-play threat Ravens receiver Mike Wallace is  only averaging 12.8 yards per reception on the season. Reaching averages as high as 21 yards per catch in his career, the Lions must hold him and Maclin to the pedestrian production they’ve had all season. It is crucial that Wallace and Maclin don’t have big, throwback-esque games if the Lions are going to win . The secondary has been relatively strong all season, and tight coverage on Maclin and Wallace will result in interceptions.

The most important matchup of the game, however, will be the Detroit pass offense against the Baltimore pass defense. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is in the midst of another successful season throwing the ball, ranking 5th in the NFL with 3,010 passing yards, but the Baltimore defense is second-best against the pass in the entire league in terms of yardage. This is not a good sign for the Lions.

The Baltimore defense is inadequate against the run, ranking 22nd in rush yards allowed and the Lions run game has been pitiful all season. Add in running back Ameer Abdullah’s questionable status due to a neck injury, it looks like the Lions won’t be able to take advantage of the weak Ravens run defense.

This game is going to come down to Matthew Stafford. No matter how good the Ravens have been on pass defense all season, Stafford is the highest-paid player in the league. He needs to be able to win tough matchups. With how bad the run game is been, Stafford will need to make the big throws he didn’t make last week against Minnesota for the Lions to stand a chance..

Keys to the game

  • Forget the run game, just air it out. Regardless of how good the Baltimore pass defense is, the Lions need to trust their guys. Stop messing around in the run game, and take shots downfield. The Lions’ 3.4 yards per carry is third-worst in the NFL, and regardless of the matchup, that won’t change. Jones Jr. once again had 100+ receiving yards last week to go along with two touchdowns, and he should be the guy Stafford looks to all day.
  • Lock down  Maclin and Wallace. No matter how poor Flacco has played this season, he’s still going to throw the ball at least 30 times per game. Maclin and Wallace are older, past-their-prime receivers and Darius Slay and company should have little trouble covering them and forcing turnovers.
  • Set the tone early. As fans have picked up, the Lions are one of the worst first quarter teams in the league. Digging themselves out of a hole in the second half every week needs to stop.. After spending all season insisting on running the ball every first down, the Lions would be best off catching the Baltimore defense sleeping on the first play of the game and throwing a deep ball to Jones Jr. or wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Slow starts are no longer excusable.

Writers’ Picks

John Dolan: While I think the Lions can and must win this game, they’ve done nothing the past few weeks to make me think they will. On the road against a playoff-caliber team, this one is going to be tough to win.

Ravens 24, Lions 21

Michael Downes: While Stafford is one of the key players in this matchup, I think the Detroit defense is going to make a few big plays to decide the game. I’m calling for a defensive touchdown to be the decider in this game.

Lions 27, Ravens 21

Noah Goad: This should be a low scoring game. The Lions’ elite offense going up against the Ravens stout defense. Fortunately for Detroit, the Ravens are in the bottom half of points scored. Detroit’s defense should have any trouble containing the Ravens’ offenses.

Lions 17, Ravens 14