In what could be the most pivotal game for both teams, the (7-6) Baltimore Ravens face the (7-6) Detroit Lions on Monday night (8:40pm ET, ESPN). The playoffs are on the line and it is likely only the winner of this game finds their way to the postseason.
When the season began, the Detroit Lions looked like one of the strongest and most prolific scoring teams. Led by Matthew Stafford’s high flying offense, the Lions won six of their first nine games. They did so while averaging 26.4 points a game, one of the highest marks in the NFL. They also were one of just a few teams to only score under 20 points once.
Early on in the season this worked for Detroit. They were able to neutralize opponents with their top-ranked offense. The only problem is that this formula has not worked recently and they have lost three of their last four, all of which were winnable games.
Detroit has continued to be one of the most potent offenses in the league (averaging 26.6 points on the season) but their defense has struggled. For this reason, the Lions have started to go into self-destruct mode putting the (7-6) Chicago Bears in a position to strike for the division. Detroit needs to win this game to keep pace in the NFC North.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens are on a completely different path. After starting the season 3-5, it looked like playoffs were going to be out of the question for the defending Super Bowl champs. But behind the highest paid player in football, Joe Flacco, the Ravens have charged back into contention. The team has gone four of five and has won three straight.
Baltimore’s identity is still a little shaky but what they do know is that the team will not go down without a fight. The Ravens have put themselves in a position for one of the AFC’s wildcards. Considering their final two games are against the (10-3) New England Patriots and (9-4) Cincinnati Bengals, there is no question that this is a must-win for Baltimore.
Baltimore’s X-Factor: Dennis Pitta
Dennis Pitta (pictured) only caught six passes for 48 yards last Sunday but it was clear that going forward, he is going to be a huge part of the Raven offense. Pitta missed the first 12 games of the season with a hip injury that kept him on the IR. Last year, Pitta played in all 16 games and was targeted 93 times, an average of 5.8 targets a game. This was actually pretty impressive and a near 50% increase from his role in the offense from the prior season.
In 2013, in his season debut, Pitta was targeted 11 times to lead the team. Flacco seemed very comfortable looking for his tight end and when a score was needed, he went to Pitta.
Nothing is certain but with the playoffs looming, Pitta is going to play a huge role as to whether or not Baltimore gets there. He has the potential to really rejuvenate this offense.
The matchup against Detroit is favorable as well (25th ranked passing defense). Pitta should be primed for a big day as long as he can corral the passes that Flacco will be sending his way.
Detroit’s X-Factor: Calvin Johnson
There haven’t been many games this year when an opposing defense has been able to stifle the production of the NFL’s best wide receiver. Now in his seventh year, Johnson is having a phenomenal season. He has already scored 12 touchdowns in 12 games and is averaging a career-high 18 yards per caught pass. He won’t break his own record for most receiving yards in a season but other than that, this is easily Johnson’s best season.
Johnson has carried the load for the Lions but lately that has been more of a problem than a solution. During the losing skid, Johnson has passed 100 receiving yards three times. Two of these are Lions’ losses. Perhaps contradictory to what would be expected, in the five games this season in which Johnson has not surpassed the 100-yard mark, the Lions are actually 4-1. In the remaining seven games, the team is just 3-4.
Make no mistake, Johnson is still the X-Factor. Stafford will look to target him every chance he gets, especially in the endzone. Baltimore’s defense is pretty solid and safety Matt Elam has been playing like anything but a rookie. The only problem is that Elam may have dug his own grave by referring to Johnson as “pretty old.”
Typically these situations don’t work out in favor of the guy doing the taunting. Johnson has already come out to describe Elam and the Ravens’ secondary as “nothing extraordinary.” Technically Johnson is right about that as Baltimore’s defense has given up the most pass plays of 40+ yards this season, something that is quite frankly, Johnson’s specialty. He is a big play threat and the Lions are a big play team. This could mean big numbers for Johnson.
Ravens at Lions Betting Picks
The playoffs are on the line and that can serve as a great motivator. The Lions are desperate after last week’s snowstorm of a loss, to get back to their winning ways. The Ravens plan to keep on winning.
Despite the recent turn of events, the Lions are rightfully home favorites (4-2 when playing in Detroit). The sportsbooks have Detroit with a six-point cushion against the Ravens, who haven’t exactly been road warriors this year (1-5 when playing away from Baltimore).
- I reckon the Lions could get the win on the moneyline but I don’t expect them to cover the spread. So take the Ravens +6pts @ odds of -110 with either BetOnline or Bovada online sportsbooks.
- The over/under at 48.5 total points should be easily surpassed as well. So take the over at 48.5 @ -110 with Bovada (it is over 49pts with BetOnline).
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.