Two teams in somewhat of a tailspin. The Baltimore Ravens are in the playoffs, but have lost their last three games and haven’t clinched their division. The New York Giants have lost four of their last six games, and need to win twice to get into the postseason, but seem to crumble each time they face a good defensive team.
The Ravens have their problems, but it’s been mostly at quarterback. Joe Flacco needed some garbage time touchdowns to avoid a third consecutive game under 200 yards. The key to the Baltimore Ravens’ offense isn’t Flacco playing great, but Jim Caldwell designing the right kind of plays, and putting the ball in the hands of Ray Rice. While the New York Giants’ front four is a menace to any quarterback in the league, double teaming Jason Pierre-Paul has worked well for others, and the Giants have a problem stopping the run, allowing 123.7 yards per game.
Their defense in general has been inconsistent, ravaged by injuries and mistakes in the secondary. To counter that you need a big time quarterback, something Eli Manning hasn’t really looked like in the second half of the season. After a promising start to the year, it looks like Manning is back to his old ways. He’s been intercepted 15 times this season, four in the last couple of weeks. His performance against the New Orleans Saints was far from perfect, despite the easy challenge set before him.
Against the Falcons it was a tad embarassing. Manning didn’t throw a touchdown for the fourth time in the last two months and was intercepted twice, completing only 52% of his passes for 161 yards. The Ravens have injury problems on defense, and that should work in the Giants’ favor, and especially Eli, who has to regain his composure and rhythm in his passing, which means looking for Victor Cruz to bail him out of tough spots.
For the Ravens, it’s a huge test. It looks like they’re regressing every week on both ends of the ball. Some key players like Jacoby Jones need to see more of the ball, after averaging 17 yards per reception on week 15, with his speed potentially devastating to a weak Giants secondary. If Ray Rice establishes the run early with some nice drives between the tackles, Flacco might be finally able to feel a bit more comfortable.
Prediction – The Giants are impossible to predict, as they always win, convincingly, in the moments you least expect of them – In Green Bay and San Francisco. Putting your faith in Eli Manning to produce a big game isn’t the most solid thing in the world, but it seems to work with the season on the line.