It’s a huge Monday night match-up as the (4-2) Arizona Cardinals welcome the (1-5) Baltimore Ravens to University of Phoenix Stadium for this week’s NFC West vs AFC North showdown (8:30pm ET).
For the Ravens, the playoffs are most likely out of reach as the division is led by the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, who just defeated the Cardinals last week. Baltimore is currently in last, unfamiliar territory for the 2012 Super Bowl champs. But despite the five losses, the Ravens are actually much better than their record suggests. In fact, each of the team’s losses this year has come by six or less points.
The Cardinals have been riding a different wave this season. Opening the year with three straight victories, Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the league. While they have lost two of their last three, the Cardinals are 2-1 at home this year and 15-4 under head coach Bruce Arians. In the team’s four wins in 2015, they have scored at least 31 points, topping 40 in three of those games.
The schedule has not been kind to the Ravens, as this is the second time in as many weeks that they have to fly across the country after playing in San Francisco last week. It is also the fifth time in seven games in which they are on the road. The Cardinals meanwhile have played an even three at home and three on the road so far this season. Their return to Glendale to play the Ravens will be their first home game since the two-point loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Carson Palmer and the NFL’s Top-Six Aerial Attack
All season long, the Cardinals have relied on journeyman Carson Palmer (pictured) to lead the offense and so far, he has delivered. At 35, and in his 13th season in the league, Palmer is on pace to have his best season as a Cardinal and best in his career since 2007. Palmer, who played just six games in an injury plagued 2014, already has 14 touchdowns, just 10 shy of the 24 he put up the last time he played a full 16-game season in 2013.
A healthy Palmer has been the key for the Cardinals this year but he has not been the only one. Palmer’s most reliable weapon has once again been 32-year-old receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is in the middle of a career resurgence of his own. After catching just 63 balls in 14 games last year, Fitzgerald already has 43 in six games in 2015. The career Cardinal has been the most important member of the passing game and already has 583 yards which puts him on pace to top his totals the past three seasons. Not to mention, Fitzgerald already has six touchdowns, which puts him on pace to best his career high 13 from 2009.
Beyond Fitzgerald is John Brown, the second year standout from Pittsburgh State, who is coming off his best game of his career. Brown caught 10 passes for 196 yards against the Steelers, putting his totals for the season at 33 receptions and 467 yards. He also has two touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, this is not a favorable match-up. The Cardinals rank sixth in the NFL in passing offense with 1,705 yards whereas Baltimore’s defense ranks just 28th, allowing 1,717 yards. Additionally, Arizona is second in the NFL, first in the NFC, with an average of 33.8 points per game. The Ravens are 27th in points allowed, surrendering 27 per game on average.
Steve Smith vs Patrick Peterson is a Must-Win Match-Up for the Ravens
When Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2012, QB Joe Flacco had no shortage of offensive playmakers. Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice were all incredible weapons for the young signal caller. Now, an eighth year player and veteran in his own right, Flacco only has Pitta, and even so, the 30-year-old tight end has been injured and unable to take the field this year.
Leading the way for Baltimore and really the only reliable guy Flacco has to throw to, is Carolina Panthers former star, Steve Smith Sr. Smith is a playmaker, make no doubt about it, and has been a breath of fresh air for Baltimore. The 36-year-old hasn’t slowed down a step and already has 36 receptions for 510 yards and three touchdowns in five games.
However, considering that outside of Kamar Aiken (18 receptions, 265 yards, two TD), the Ravens remaining seven receivers barely combine for 30 receptions then it’s no question that Smith is the only threat. That of course, makes it very clear that he will be dealing with one of the NFL’s best corners in Patrick Peterson.
Already with 15 tackles and two interceptions in the team’s first six games, Peterson has been the guy that you don’t want to throw the ball around. Receivers have barely seen the ball when Peterson has been tasked with guarding them, a true testament to a corner’s dominance. Against the Cardinals, Smith will be dealing with Peterson, which could free up some of Flacco’s other weapons to make plays. More likely however, it forces the Ravens to rely more on the run and Justin Forsett, who finally looks to be turning a corner from a very rough early season start.
The best case scenario for the Ravens still revolves around Smith somehow managing to get free and finding a way to still be involved, even with Peterson protecting. He is Flacco’s go-to guy and without his impact down the field, it could be a very long day for the Ravens.
Our Preview’s Baltimore Ravens vs Arizona Cardinals Picks
Clearly the Ravens have fallen on some tough luck this year and against the Cardinals it doesn’t look to get much better. Arizona has been impressive on offense and have played well on defense as well. Once again, behind a healthy Palmer, they could be real threats to make some noise in the postseason. Before that happens however, they must turn the corner from the Pittsburgh game and get back to their winning ways. Here are our preview’s betting picks: