Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday night

December 17, 2011 | Luke Jones

3. Ray Rice will have another fine night with 140 total yards to continue his late-season charge. As much as the Ravens might be challenged by the San Diego passing game, the Chargers will have to contend with Rice, who has an NFL-leading 1,622 yards from scrimmage and is the only player in the league with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. San Diego has struggled to pressure quarterbacks this season, collecting only 22 sacks, despite their secondary being comfortable in playing man-to-man defense. The Chargers will try to get after Joe Flacco as most teams do, opening up opportunities for Rice to release from the backfield if given the opportunity. San Diego has the seventh-ranked pass defense and safety Eric Weddle is tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, meaning Flacco will need to be careful in taking his shots and will settle for any opportunities to get the ball to Rice in open space. The Chargers are also tied for 23rd against the run, meaning Rice should find plenty of carries coming his way with the offensive line playing at a very high level over the last few weeks.

4. Billy Cundiff’s health concerns — or road woes — will have an impact on the game. Even though he didn’t practice all week, the Ravens must be confident in Cundiff’s left calf considering they did not sign veteran Shayne Graham, who was on standby last weekend after the injury first surfaced. Coach John Harbaugh would not discuss the status of Cundiff — or any player for that matter — but it’s never comforting for your kicker to be dealing with a leg issue on top of his struggles on the road as you enter Week 15. The Ravens may elect to have punter Sam Koch handle kickoff duties to allow Cundiff to concentrate on field goals, but that could impact Baltimore in the field position battle and Koch’s ability to punt as the game goes on. Of Cundiff’s eight misses this season, all have come on the road. While I won’t go as far as predicting a late-game miss that costs the Ravens the game, it’s tough to feel good about a perfect storm of circumstances that could impact field goals, punts, and field position in a very negative way.

5. Rivers will continue his late-season hot streak to lead the Chargers over the Ravens, 27-23. No matter how well the Ravens have played this season and how poorly San Diego has fared at times, I just don’t like this matchup for Baltimore. Even with the return of Lewis to the middle of the defense, Webb’s loss is a tough one when you consider the role Rivers has been on recently and how little Smith has been tested against legitimate receivers. While Rivers has thrown 17 interceptions this season, none have come over the last three weeks while the former North Carolina State product has tossed seven touchdown passes. Flacco and the Baltimore offense will be able to move the ball against a respectable Chargers defense, but they won’t do enough to overcome what will be a rare off-night for the Baltimore defense. As a result, the Ravens will desperately turn their attention toward the Monday night game to see if San Francisco can knock off Pittsburgh and keep Baltimore in the AFC North driver seat. A 49ers loss means the Ravens find the harsh possibility of entering the playoffs as a wild card for the fourth straight year staring them right in the face.