Week 15 marks the penultimate edition of Monday Night Football for the 2013 season, as the Detroit Lions play host to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field.
Considering that the Lions are holding onto the slimmest of leads in the NFC North and the Ravens are battling for the No. 6 seed in the AFC, it's hard to imagine the stakes being much higher.
The Monday night finale on Dec. 23 will serve up a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Atlanta won't be returning to the postseason this year, but could contribute to foiling the Niners' wild-card hopes in the NFC.
Let's take a look at the viewing information for the two remaining Monday night games, along with a preview and pick for each.
|Week||Matchup||Time (EDT)||TV||Live Stream|
|15||Baltimore Ravens vs. Detroit Lions||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|16||Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49ers||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) vs. Detroit Lions (7-6)
The dome atmosphere that Ford Field fosters will probably be a relief for both teams after they weathered heavy snowfall in their respective Week 14 contests.
While the Lions wilted in losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road, Baltimore gutted out a victory at home against an upset-minded Minnesota Vikings team. Quarterback Joe Flacco overcame three interceptions to hit Marlon Brown for the winning nine-yard touchdown strike with four seconds left in the game.
The vulnerability that Detroit showed in Philly against the run (299 yards allowed) is discouraging, especially in the context of how much the Ravens have struggled to establish their ground game this season.
If Flacco can have more balance to support him from the backfield, he could help lead Baltimore to another late-season burst reminiscent of the road the Ravens took to a Super Bowl triumph last season.
Plus, Flacco has his favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta, back in the lineup. Pitta caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in his season debut against the Vikings.
Pitta should help open up the Ravens offense, which will be key against a ferocious Lions defense that has a formidable front seven.
Putting up plenty of points would also aid Baltimore's defensive effort, which will do its best to stop Detroit's explosive attack, led by Matthew Stafford.
Rookie Ravens safety Matt Elam called out Lions superstar receiver Calvin Johnson earlier in the week with some fighting words, per David Ginsburg of the AP:
He’s pretty old, so I don’t know how physical he’ll be. He’s a big guy, but he’s older. I guess when they get older they’re not going to be as physical, you know what I’m saying? We’re going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable...You’ve got to know when it’s time to double him, when it’s time to triple-team him. You’ve got to keep your eye on him.
That is liable to only fuel Megatron's fire—and that's dangerous territory for an opponent to tread. Flacco recognized that in a tweet:
Joe Flacco on what Matt Elam after CJ comments: "You just kind of look at him and say 'Dude, what are you thinking? It’s Calvin Johnson.'"— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 12, 2013
As much as there is on the line in this showdown, both teams should light up the scoreboard.
However, look for Johnson to come out with a reinvigorated purpose as he sticks it to the Ravens with a huge game, helping Detroit maintain its lead in the NFC North.
Prediction: Lions 38, Ravens 34
Atlanta Falcons (4-10) vs. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis and the Niners flexed their collective muscles in beating the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14, and San Francisco continued to roll with an easy 33-14 disposal of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Few teams are hotter than San Francisco, as Jim Harbaugh's bunch has overcome two back-to-back losing streaks this season to remain a fixture in the wild-card hunt at 10-4.
Atlanta hurt itself in terms of its 2014 draft positioning by beating Washington. Its season-ending road trip to the Golden State is far from a guaranteed victory, but many of these Falcons are still playing hard for head coach Mike Smith and are a far more talented team than their terrible record indicates.
Only three of the Falcons' 10 losses have come against losing teams, so the schedule, along with a slew of injuries, have hurt them a lot.
ESPN's NFL Twitter account—NFL on ESPN—highlighted this interesting statistic that puts Atlanta among the most injury-plagued teams in the league:
RESULTS: With all their injuries, the Texans (23%) are the unluckiest team in the NFL. Packers, Falcons & Patriots follow. #UnluckestNFLTeam— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 13, 2013
Which road team is likelier to win?
Matt Ryan gives the Falcons a bit of an edge under center—even without star receiver Julio Jones—over the more dynamic, but less consistent, Colin Kaepernick. The tipping point that will put this game in the Niners' favor is a far superior rushing attack, spearheaded by bruising running back Frank Gore.
The Falcons are No. 29 against the run. That will be their undoing because Ryan will have to take to the air too often not to be exploited for a lack of offensive balance.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Falcons 17