How the mighty have fallen. This game before the season looked set to be a humdinger, featuring two of the past three Super Bowl winners squaring off in the final weeks of the season. However, both Baltimore and Seattle have struggled in 2015. The Ravens have been decimated by injuries and back luck in 2015. They are missing seven of their offensive starters, with several more players missing due to injury. They actually have the most players on Injured Reserve so far, with 21. They lost the Miami Dolphins last week, despite dominating in every phase, mainly due to two Matt Schaub interceptions. That leaves them on a 4-8 record, for third in the AFC North. The Seahawks started the season slowly, but have been gaining momentum like they always seem to do, heading into December. They have won three straight games to thrust themselves right into the NFC’s playoff picture, while scoring more than 35 points in three of their last four games. Despite missing offensive pieces Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch, their deputies, Luke Willson and Thomas Rawls, have played exceptionally in their stead. They enter Sunday’s game at 7-5, second in the NFC West.
Three Keys to the Game
Russell Wilson’s passing
Russell Wilson has improved game by game for Seattle this season. His passer rating of 138.5 or better in each of the past three games is matched only by Kurt Warner in 1999 and Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Warner and Rodgers each won the MVP that season, so maybe it’s time we start taking Wilson for MVP talk seriously. He could have a field day against a Ravens secondary that has been giving up big plays all season, including a 34-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to DeVante Parker last week for Miami’s only offensive score.
Buck Allen’s versatility
A light at the end of the tunnel for the Ravens may be the play of rookie running back Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen. Allen accounted for 170 yards of total offense for the Ravens last Sunday, while breaking the Ravens’ franchise record for receptions in a game, with 12 grabs for 107 yards and a touchdown. Only playing for due to an injury to start Justin Forsett, Allen’s development will be crucial to the Ravens chances for bouncing back in 2016.
Will Matt Schaub tie his own pick-six record?
Look away now Ravens fans. Quarterback Matt Schaub came into Baltimore with a penchant for throwing pick-sixes. Whether or not the Ravens could fix that nasty habit was the question when he was signed, but as he was bought in to back up the durable Joe Flacco, many thought he wouldn’t see the field. Then Flacco tears his ACL and MCL, and that question was answered: No. Schaub has thrown two pick-sixes in his two starts for the Ravens this season, meaning he only needs to throw one more for a fourth consecutive game with a pick-six (he threw one in his last appearance for the Raiders in 2015) tying his own record. After being banged up last Sunday by the Dolphins, it’s not clear if Schaub will play on Sunday. But if he does, the Ravens will be hoping he doesn’t make history, again.
Match-up to watch
Thomas Rawls vs the Ravens defensive line.
Thomas Rawls, like Buck Allen, has been a revelation for the Seahawks this season. Playing due to constant injuries to starting running back Marshawn Lynch, Rawls leads the NFL in yards per carry, and has the fifth most rushing yards in the NFL since Week 3, during which time he has only started six of those 10 games. An undrafted pick by the Seahawks, he has provided a boost to what has been Seattle’s biggest weapon for several years. He will be tested on Sunday against a Ravens defensive line that has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season long.
I’m going to go for the popular and safe pick here. M&T Bank Stadium is not the fortress that it used to be for the Ravens, and they certainly aren’t the team they used to be either. The Seahawks have much more to play for (a loss sees the NFC West go to Arizona), and are playing much, much better ball. All the Ravens games have been decided by 8 points or less in 2015, an NFL record. Expect that record to be ended this Sunday.