Ravens @ Pats
The Ravens turned their season around about 5 weeks ago. Prior to week 12 they were a pass first run second team. The team was putting too much pressure on QB Flacco asking him to win the game rather than be just part of a balanced O. From game 13 on the Ravs were in their heavy set (2TE) 34% of their snaps. That allowed them to run the ball much more effectively. RBs Rice and McGahee were devastating. In the final game McGahee ran for 167 yards. Rice will be key as a receiver as well as a runner. The Pats LBs have real trouble covering a back and Rice is an outstanding receiver.
The running has helped the passing game. In the last 4 games, Flacco has thrown for 7 TDs with just 1 pick. That is key for the Ravs. They need to be able to keep the Pat D from loading up the box. A couple of play action passes will do that.
The Raven D is not what it has been over the last few years in part because of injuries. They have struggled to cover the inside routes. Their pass D has been the key weakness on the team in recent games. The injury situation got a lot better because DT Ngata will start after having a full practice Thursday. He was limited on Wednesday. The pass D will be vastly improved if FS Reed can recover from a groin injury and start after having a full practice Thursday. Those two make a huge difference. Noga takes up 2 and sometimes 3 blockers which frees the LBs to run to the ball. Reed in the backfield insures that all WRs will have their head on a swivel waiting for the big hit from Reed.
The Pat O was hurt badly by the injury last week to WR Welker. Welker is one of 3 active WRs that has over 100 catches in the last 3 seasons. He is the underneath guy to pull coverage from Moss going deep. The key to the Pats passing game is the short pass to Welker. Welker is the safety valve for QB Brady and the passing game could struggle without him.
There is good news in the running game because according to NFL sources, RB Taylor should be back. Taylor is a great receiver as well as experienced in picking up blitzes. Both will be critical to keep the Pat O rolling.
The Pat D is another issue. This year they have struggled to stop the run without DL Seymour who they traded to Oakland and LB Vrabel to the Chiefs. The D also lost several players to FA including LB Colvin and Seau as well as S Harrison. The result was a D that tried to hang in rather than dictate to the O. The team has not been able use its complex Ds because the players that were smart enough to make adjustments were gone. Opponents have been able to run and pass against the simpler Ds because the team does not have the skill to compete. To stop the running game they are going to have to stack the line including using Reed at the point of attack. That will weaken the pass coverage and open things up for Ravens passing game.
Packers @ Cardinals
The Pack has been one of the hottest O’s in the last few weeks of the season. QB Rodgers has been on fire. In 5 of the last 7 games he has had a passing rating over 100. His passing has opened up the running game for RB Grant. Rodgers has as good a set of receivers as any team in the league. WRs Driver and Jennings are outstanding. They both are deserving of double coverage. TE Lee is solid and stretched the D down the middle. The O has avoided key injuries that have hurt the D.
One key to the game is the O line keeping pressure off the QB. They have allowed 51 sacks which is a concern if the Card D comes to play like they did in their playoff run last year.
The Pack D has lost pro bowlers CB Harris and OB/DE Kampman as well as key reserve LB Thompson. Even so, the team is playing well. The young LB crew has put pressure on opposing QBs regularly. Rookie OB Mathews is the key blitzer that has taken Kampman’s place. Pressure is key because the D backfield is vulnerable.
The Cards were bombed by the Pack last week. They put incredible pressure on QB Warner. The Cards did hold out some of their key players but suffered a major injury when WR Bolden went down. Bolden is a quick healer but is not expected to play Sunday. WR Breaston is going to have to pick up the slack. The other key injury is LT Gandy who is on IR. Bridges has replaced him but is not at all reliable to keep Warner upright. The entire O line has struggled at times to protect the passer. When they give Warner any time at all he will slice up any defense. But he can’t pass when he is on his behind.
The running game is not stable. RB Hightower fumbles way too often and rookie RB Wells struggles to pick up the blitz. The running game is solid in some games and disappears in others. They are going to have to be able to run the ball at least enough to keep the blitzes to a minimum.
The D is great in one game and terrible in the next. They have the talent but don’t seem to have the motivation in every game. Last year during the playoff run they were outstanding. They should be motivated to win in the playoffs.
Admittedly, I am a huge Warner fan. You will know in the first 2 possessions who is going to win. If Warner has time to throw and the Cardinal D shows up, it will be a close game. If not, the Pack will win easily.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .