The Baltimore Ravens have clinched the playoffs. The Purple and Black, despite being in the middle of a three-game losing streak, will be playing football in January, but if they don't find a way to right the ship, they won't be doing it for long.
Sunday afternoon, they'll face the New York Giants, fresh off their worst loss of the year, a 34-0 spanking at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The Giants, once running away with the NFC East, now find themselves in a three-way tie with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys atop the division with the 'Skins holding the tiebreaker. The Giants have played, at times, like the best team in the league, but they haven't lately and the defending champs are in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.
The pressure's on for both these teams. The team that wins will start to gain back a little respect from the NFL community at large, and the loser will have to take a long look in the mirror and decide whether it wants to, or can, play like a team that deserves to make the playoffs.
Meet the Ravens
The Ravens are in danger of going on their first four-game losing streak in five years, according to the Associated Press, and firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in the middle of it didn't quite do the trick; they lost to the Denver Broncos 34-17 last week, and the game wasn't nearly that close.
Quarterback Joe Flacco seemed to take the leap forward earlier this season, but now that the season is 87.5 percent finished, appears to have regressed. Though he isn't burdened with the play-calling duties, it's clear the entire Ravens offense could use a whole lot more Ray Rice.
Rice had just 15 touches against the Broncos and just 13 against the Steelers in Week 13 despite a yards-per-carry average over 6.0. To beat the Giants, especially considering Big Blue's formidable pass rush, Rice needs to be a much bigger part of the offense.
Ravens fans think only one thing matters, however. Ray Lewis is back. So they have that going for them.
Meet the Giants
The Giants were, to put it bluntly, embarrassed last week by the Falcons. In what was billed as a showdown between two of the best teams in the NFC, the Falcons looked every bit like the No. 1 seed, but the Giants looked every bit like a team stumbling its way out of the playoffs.
The team desperately needs Ahmad Bradshaw to return, because despite the success of rookie David Wilson, as evidenced by his 12 carries Sunday, Coughlin doesn't view him as an every-down sort of back. Bradshaw is questionable against the Ravens, but he needs to play effectively. The rest of the Giants are beat up, too, and many should be coming back, including defensive backs Kenny Phillips and Prince Amukamara, who missed last week's game.
Local Takes: Ravens
Bruce Raffel from Baltimore Beatdown predicts a Ravens victory.
The game appears statistically close but the intangibles of the home-field advantage, the return of Ray Lewis and what's on the line will give the Ravens a slight advantage that I see them finally not blowing in the games closing moments. Expect a street fight, as the Giants are a wounded animal as well and fighting for their lives. However, this will be the Ravens day for a change of pace, and a rebound victory will change the tone of desperation in Baltimore for at least a couple weeks.
Local Takes: Giants
Giants blogger Ed Valentine at Big Blue View understands what's at stake this Sunday.
It is crunch time for the New York Giants. No more lapses can be tolerated. No more weeks of 'we'll turn it on later when we have to.' Now is the time when they have to. Can they? We find out on Sunday as the defending Super Bowl champs face the Baltimore Ravens with their margin for error sliced to nothing. They have to win. Period.
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Baltimore Beatdown and Big Blue View, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Ravens trail 10-0: It's all Cam Cameron's fault!— Bruce Raffel (@BaltimoreBeatdo) December 16, 2012
Asked David Wilson if he felt he made any mistakes last wk. Here's what he said: "I didn't really make any mistake sulia.com/channel/new-yo…— Ed Valentine (@bigblueview) December 21, 2012
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson
Ma'ake Kemeoatu on if Ray Lewis returns Sunday: 'It would be emotional to have him back.'— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) December 21, 2012
New York Daily News beat writer Ralph Vacchiano
Do the same for the road team's SBN blog and a couple of local beat reporters.
Giants (-2.5) at Ravens --
It's tweets like this--and the Cowboys' recent history--that make me 98 percent certain the Giants are still going to win the NFC East this year.
The Giants are favored by 2.5 points on Odds Shark despite, you know, getting their [expletive] kicked in last week. This is how much Vegas hates picking against a streak like the Ravens'
In the final week of the 2012 NFL season, the Ravens will face division rival Cincinnati at 1 p.m. ET. The Giants will face their biggest rival, the Eagles, in a game that could send them, or bounce them, from the playoffs.