Surging vs. struggling.
After an uneven start to the season, the Baltimore Ravens have won three in a row and are suddenly threatening for a playoff spot in the AFC. During Week 15's crucial Monday night contest, they'll hope to keep that momentum against a Detroit Lions team that is moving in the opposite direction.
The Lions started the year 6-3 but have lost three of their last four and must win this home game to stay atop the NFC North.
It has been nearly a month since we've been treated to an evenly fought contest on Monday night, but that's going to change very soon.
Date: December 16, 2013
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Detroit (-6.5), via Covers
Over/Under: 50, via Covers
Key for the Lions: Defensive line play
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have the talent to completely take over any game. When they are getting penetration, they can stifle opposing run games and command enough attention to make things easier for pass-rushers like Ziggy Ansah.
As Pro Football Focus points out, Suh is second-best in the entire league in quarterback disruptions:
No DT has generated as much pressure as Gerald McCoy (68 QB disruptions). 2nd is Ndamukong Suh w/62 & 3rd Jurrell Casey w/47— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 10, 2013
However, while that defensive line can cause chaos in the trenches and fully change an opponent's offense, there have still been let-down moments. The most recent came last week when LeSean McCoy gashed the Lions for 217 yards inside the snow globe that was the Linc.
So, which defensive line shows up?
If it's the dominant version, the Ravens, who average a league-worst 3.0 yards per game, will have no run game, and Joe Flacco will be forced to throw under pressure, where he tends to make mistakes.
If it's last week's version, Flacco will be able to sit comfortably in the pocket and pick apart the defense.
Key for the Ravens: Containing Calvin Johnson
The Lions have a number of different offensive weapons, so defenses are often forced to simply "pick their poison." But with Reggie Bush at less than 100 percent and Baltimore being very good against the run (3.8 yards per carry allowed), the Ravens would much rather prefer Detroit attempt to beat them on the ground.
That means containing Calvin Johnson.
As such, giving "Megatron" extra motivation probably isn't exactly the way to go, as rookie Matt Elam did earlier in the week. From SportsCenter's Twitter feed:
Ravens S Matt Elam said Calvin Johnson was "pretty old" and would shy away from physicality. Johnson laughed » pic.twitter.com/GdtY4IElSg— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 12, 2013
Johnson took it a step further, calling Elam and James Ihedigbo "nothing extraordinary," via the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec:
Calvin Johnson on Elam and Ihedigbo: "Nothing extraordinatory. Those are definitely guys we can make plays on."— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiecsun) December 12, 2013
The stats back it up, as Ravens, according to Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper, have given up a league-high 16 plays of 40 or more yards on the year. They aren't going to completely shut down Johnson, the most dangerous wide receiver in the game, but they need to prevent those types of game-changing plays, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers did with A.J. Green on Sunday night.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Lions 27
These two teams may be currently moving in opposite directions, but the Lions are a different team at Ford Field, and the Ravens are hardly trustworthy away from home.
Who ya got?
Detroit is 4-2 at home, with both losses coming by three points, while Baltimore is 1-5 on the road and hasn't won away from M&T Bank Stadium since early October.
With Chicago and Green Bay wins on Sunday, the Lions, after leading the division for so long, suddenly need a victory in a bad way. With Bush presumably back in the lineup, they'll get it.