Monday Night Football: Baltimore-Detroit Battle Looms Large

Monday Night Football features a good game between the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) from Ford Field. There are big consequences at stake for both in their pursuit of division titles, and the personnel matchups offer a lot of intrigue.

By the time Baltimore takes the field they’ll know if this game is must-win. The other prime-time game of NFL Week 15 is Sunday’s Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game, about a half-hour from kickoff as this post goes online. If the Bengals win, then the Ravens have to win to keep their AFC North hopes alive. If the Bengals lose, then a Ravens win at least ensures a Week 17 showdown between the two rivals.

Detroit has the tiebreaker advantage on Chicago in the NFC North, but the Bears’ win over Cleveland early Sunday afternoon compels the Lions to keep pace. There won’t be a wild-card coming out of this division, so Detroit has no slack.

Baltimore has had some offensive problems this year, and they’ve had huge problems running the ball. But they got tight end Dennis Pitta back last week and that at least opens up some options for Joe Flacco in the passing game.

The strength of Detroit’s defense is stopping the run, but Baltimore likely couldn’t run in any case. The Lions do have some problems in the secondary, and it’s here that Flacco may be able to make some plays down the field to his big wide receivers. Pass protection will be the key–Detroit gets consistent pressure across the front four, and the Ravens’ offensive line has been no better here than they have been at run-blocking.

Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford will need to avoid interceptions. I expect his team to move the ball well, but he’ll get pressure from Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the outside and Stafford can’t get rattled and force passes into coverage.

The moneylines on this game have Detroit a solid (-260) favorite, whereas you can Baltimore at (+215) for the outright upset. Based on these numbers, I lean to the Ravens. Detroit should be a slight favorite–maybe in the (-120) to (-125) range, but this too much to risk to take for what promises to be an exciting game.