Ravens vs. Lions 2013 game preview: Must win on 'Monday Night Football'

Two 7-6 teams meet on "Monday Night Football" to help determine if they are primed for the playoffs or ready to head home for the winter.

The Ravens travel to Ford Field in Week 15 to take on a talented, but inconsistent Detroit Lions team. This battle between 7-6 teams is going to come down to razor-thin margins, conservative quarterback play and which secondary can limit big plays. A loss for either team severely damages its playoff chances, while an inter-conference win almost locks down a spot in the postseason.

Detroit suffered a loss at the hands of Philadelphia in Week 14. Heavy snow and slippery conditions derailed the Lions' passing offense just when the Eagles gained their footing, resulting in a late-game collapse. Winning the NFC North could have been sealed weeks ago, but a series of unreliable performances have allowed an opportunity for the Chicago Bears to remain in step.

Baltimore is a strange team to figure out in 2013. At times the Ravens look just as dominant as their Super Bowl-winning iteration from 2012, but there are also moments of astonishing mediocrity where they notch a near-win or close loss at the hands of an inferior opponent. The Ravens will keep games close, regardless of the competition. Ten of their 13 games this season has been settled by one score or less, ensuring fans can't rest easy with the Ravens on the field.

Meet the Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson makes it easy to romanticize the Lions' offense and focus solely on the passing game, but free-agent signing Reggie Bush could be the unsung hero in the team's wins.

The Lions are 5-1 when Bush touches the ball 20-plus times. He works as a shifty runner and dangerous swing receiver to confuse opposing defensive lines. More importantly, he gives Stafford somewhere to throw when Johnson is covered. Bush has gained over 1,300 all-purpose yards thus far, making him an invaluable cog in the machine.

Detroit remains mediocre defensively. On paper, its front should dominate, but this hasn't translated into pressure. Some of these struggles are attributable to injuries, but the Lions are 26th in the league in sacks, registering 27 of them.

Meet the Baltimore Ravens

A rough start to the season has given way to some newfound reliability, with the Ravens seeking their fourth straight win following a three-game homestand. The weather inside Detroit's dome will be a lot more pleasant, but it remains to be seen how Baltimore will handle the road game, seeing as the team has struggled to a 1-5 record away from M&T Bank Stadium in 2013.

The tempting cliche is to turn every NFL game into a quarterback competition, but in this case it's true. Joe Flacco is on pace for the worst season of his career, months after landing a long-term contract extension. His touchdown rate, completion percentage and yardage is on pace for his career averages, but costly interceptions have been uncharacteristic. Right now, Flacco is throwing an interception on 3.5 percent of his passes, higher than his rookie rate of 2.8 percent.

It's not all his fault. Baltimore's offensive line has been woeful in 2013, allowing Flacco to be sacked a career-high 41 times, while not having a lot of reliable weapons in the passing game. This is a terrible combination for a statue-like passer, and a key reason why the offense is struggling in 2013.

Local Takes: Pride of Detroit

Sean Yuille from Pride of Detroit outlined the game on Sunday, giving fans a key reason why they can be optimistic about the matchup with Baltimore:

The Ravens have had a lot of trouble scoring points this season. They have scored more than 29 points in only one game in 2013, whereas the Lions have done it five times this year. Also, the Ravens have failed to score more than 20 points in eight games this season. The Lions, for reference, have only been held below 20 points once all year. Overall, Baltimore is 24th in the NFL in points per game, while the Lions are sixth. Perhaps the Baltimore offense is just what the doctor ordered for the Detroit defense.

Local Takes: Baltimore Beatdown

Jason Butt took a look at Joe Flacco's history inside domes over at Baltimore Beatdown:

Flacco's last two games in true domes have been impressive. In 2011, Flacco threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns inside St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome. In the Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 34-31 championship win.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Pride of Detroit and Baltimore Beatdown, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@PrideOfDetroit

@BMoreBeatdown

Prediction

There isn't much belief in the Ravens away from home in Week 15. Only NFL editor Ryan Van Bibber is picking a Baltimore win, with the rest of the SB Nation panel favoring the Lions.

Ryan Van Bibber Joel Thorman Jason Chilton Stephen White David Fucillo Matt Ufford
Ravens at Lions Ravens Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions

Odds

The Detroit Lions are 6-point favorites, according to Odds Shark. Some outlets are offering 7 points on the Monday night game.

Next Week

The Detroit Lions stay at Ford Field for another week, hosting the New York Giants in Week 16.

Baltimore returns to the safety of home, facing the New England Patriots.

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NFL Week 15 updates, highlights and GIFs | Scoreboard

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