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Five things to watch: Lions at Ravens

The Detroit Lions (6-5) and Baltimore Ravens (6-5) square off at M&T Bank Stadium today in Baltimore in a game that has serious playoff implications for both teams. The Ravens are trying to cling on to one of the last playoff spots in the AFC, while the Lions are trying to inch their way back into the playoff picture in the NFC.

The winner today stays on schedule in that regard. The loser is backed into a corner heading into the final month of the season.

So, what are some things we should be watching out for in today game?


A lot has been written and talked about in terms of Detroit's slow starts of late, but it's really been a problem all year long. The Lions have scored just 30 points in first quarter through 11 games.

Detroit's strength, however, has been their play in the fourth quarter. The Lions have scored 101 points in the final 15 minutes of games this season. Only Seattle (104) has scored more. Detroit has a plus-57 scoring differential in the fourth quarter.

On the flip side, Baltimore's defense has been one of the best in football in the fourth quarter. They've allowed just 37 points all year, which is the fewest in the league, and just 740 total yards, the third fewest.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 96.5 in the fourth quarter of constests this season. Baltimore's defense is holding opposing passers to a 39.6 passer rating in the final quarter, which also leads the NFL.

So, who wins the fourth quarter in this one?


Both Jim Caldwell and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh are big proponents of having strong special teams units. Both teams ranked in the top five in Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin's annual special teams rankings last year. Both teams have strong special teams units again this season.

Matt Prater and Justin Tucker are two of the best kickers in football. Detroit and Baltimore rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in punt returns. Both teams also have very good core special teamers considered some of the best in the NFL.

Don't be surprised at all if a big play on special teams decides the outcome in this one, maybe even a long kick by two of the best long-range kickers in the league.


Baltimore isn't the kind of defense Detroit can afford to be one dimensional against. They are simply too good at every level of their defense.

The Ravens' strength on defense is their pass defense. They're No. 2 in the league in that department, allowing less than 190 passing yards per game (189.9) on average. They also have 18 interceptions on the year, the most in football.

The Lions aren't a good running team -- they rank 30th in that department -- but they have to be stubborn with it today, even if it's not working. Lions fans certainly don't want to hear that, but if this defense is allowed to pin their ears back and call open season on Matthew Stafford, especially with Detroit's injuries issues upfront along their offensive line, that plays right into Baltimore's hands.

If there's one weakness in Baltimore's defense, it's that teams have been able to gash them on the ground at points this season. Baltimore ranks just 23rd in run defense, alloing more than 115 yards per game.


Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl winning quarterback, but 2017 hasn't been statistically his best season. His passer rating of 74.2 ranks 31st among qualified passers. He's averaging just 5.34 yards per attempt, which is last among quarterbacks.

On the year, Flacco has just nine touchdown passes in 11 games to go along with 11 interceptions.

Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay are Detroit's two best players on defense. This matchup really favors them, and it's their responsibility, along with the pass rushers up front, to keep Flacco right where he's been all season, which is at the bottom of most statistical passing categories.

The Ravens have a formula that's been successful for them this season. They play terrific defense, run the ball pretty well and make just enough plays in their passing game to win games.

The Lions have to disrupt the formula and make Flacco have to beat them. That plays into Detroit's hands.


This applies to both teams. Detroit and Baltimore are two of the best in the business at taking the football away on defense. Baltimore's 26 takeaways are the most in football, and are tied for the most in their franchise history through the first 11 games.

Detroit's been pretty good on that front, too. Their 19 takeaways are tied for the fifth most in the league.

Turnover differential is always the No. 1 stat in any contest, but this week, against these two defenses, taking care of the football comes at a premium for these two offenses. Baltimore has scored 83 takeaway points this season, which ranks third. Detroit is right behind them in fourth place with 78.

In what's expected to be a close, physical contest, a big turnover or a defensive score could make the difference.

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