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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Concluding a critical three-game homestand while also currently holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Ravens welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for a game they know they should — and must — win.

Three games against projected playoff teams await to conclude the regular season, so the Ravens have no room for a letdown against 3-8-1 Minneesota in their penultimate game of the year at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, a forecast of a wintry mix Sunday could create some interesting playing conditions for both teams.

Sunday will mark the 2013 season debut for Dennis Pitta, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday afternoon. The Ravens hope the fourth-year tight end will be able to knock off enough rust against the Vikings to make him a difference-maker starting next week in a Monday night game at Detroit.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. However, the Vikings’ propensity for leaning on their running game already made it likely that second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw would see increased playing time on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens have the opportunity to move above the .500 mark for the first time since early October. The all-time series against the Vikings is tied 2-2, but Minnesota won the last meeting between these teams in 2009, a 33-31 final at the Metrodome.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look for their first three-game winning streak of the season …

1. Pitta won’t see more than 20 snaps against the Vikings, but he’ll catch a red-zone touchdown to give the Ravens a much-needed lift. The fourth-year tight end will likely see a limited number of snaps as the Ravens wait to see how he responds to live contact, but a good week of practice allowed the organization to pull the trigger to activate him. The Ravens put together six scoring drives in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, but the offense is 1-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games, a mark that must improve in the final quarter of the season. Pitta caught 10 touchdowns inside the red zone in 2011 and 2012 and will rein in his first of 2013 to boost the league’s 24th-ranked red-zone offense and build more optimism for the big three-game stretch to conclude the regular season.

2. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will become the second player this season to reach the century mark on the ground against Baltimore. Every opponent knows exactly what it needs to do against the Vikings, but stacking the box with eight defenders hasn’t prevented Peterson from leading the league with 1,208 rushing yards. The 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player averages 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, meaning gang tackling is a must against such a physical runner. The key for the Ravens will be to contain Peterson enough to prevent a big day and force them to pass the football more than they’d like, something Chicago couldn’t do in an overtime loss last week. Baltimore will do a better job than the Bears, but he’ll still hit triple digits against the Ravens, joining Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy as the only other back to accomplish that against the Ravens this season.

3. The Baltimore secondary will intercept quarterback Matt Cassel twice to set up the Ravens offense on a short field. The Vikings have had major issues at quarterback all year, so the absence of starter Christian Ponder won’t make a major difference with the Ravens actually being more familiar with Cassel. Likely using a single-high safety extensively with safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam taking turns playing closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the Ravens will depend on Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb to be strong in coverage. Minnesota has some capable weapons in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jerome Simpson at wide receiver, but that’s been true all season with the Vikings still ranking 25th in passing offense. Cassel will be forced to make some throws playing from behind, and the Ravens will be waiting to cash in on his mistakes.

4. Bernard Pierce will gain more rushing yards than Ray Rice in another timeshare of carries on Sunday. Coach John Harbaugh downplayed Pierce receiving nine carries to just 12 for Rice against the Steelers, but the more-physical Pierce averaged 3.9 yards per carry compared to 2.7 for Rice on Thanksgiving. With the possibility of snow collecting on the turf, it will be interesting to see how both teams fare, but Pierce simply looked more explosive against the Steelers and deserved an increased portion of the workload. Aside from a strong day against a run-challenged Chicago defense a few weeks ago, Rice hasn’t been himself all season while Pierce appears to be healthier now than he was early on. Rice will still get plenty of opportunities — and likely more carries — but Pierce will be more productive.

5. Wintry conditions could make things interesting, but the Ravens will dispose of an inferior team with a 24-13 win over Minnesota. It only takes one or two fluke plays in snowy weather to completely change the outcome of the game, but the Ravens have more experience and have played in plenty of poor weather this season, giving them the edge in that department. The Baltimore offense isn’t equipped to blow out anybody, but the Ravens have moved the ball better in recent weeks and quarterback Joe Flacco has arguably played his best football of the season over the last two games. Winning the turnover battle and improved efficiency in the red zone will add up to a relatively comfortable two-possession win for the Ravens as they’ll turn their sights toward a very difficult three-game stretch to try to secure a playoff spot in the AFC.

 

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Picks and Comment – Week 14

Posted on 06 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Here are this weekend’s picks as The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will pick every NFL game and local college games this season.

Luke Jones finished Week 13 with a 12-4 record while Drew Forrester was 9-7 on his picks. Entering Week 14, Jones is 115-76 on the season while Forrester is 113-78. Official standings are based only on the NFL picks.

Jones correctly picked Jacksonville to beat Houston Thursday night while Forrester incorrectly picked the Texans to win to kick off Week 14 action.

You can listen to Wednesday’s “Picks and Comment” segment HERE.

Vikings at Ravens: Baltimore 27-7 (Drew), Baltimore 24-13 (Luke)
Dolphins at Steelers: Pittsburgh 27-23 (Drew), Pittsburgh 21-16 (Luke)
Colts at Bengals: Cincinnati 37-10 (Drew), Cincinnati 23-20 (Luke)
Chiefs at Redskins: Kansas City 27-24 OT (Drew), Kansas City 26-17 (Luke)
Browns at Patriots: New England 30-17 (Drew), New England 30-20 (Luke)
Raiders at Jets: 16-16 TIE (Drew – pick is worth five wins if it happens), Oakland 20-13 (Luke)
Lions at Eagles: Detroit 24-20 (Drew), Philadelphia 27-21 (Luke)
Bills at Buccaneers: Buffalo 23-21 (Drew), Tampa Bay 23-21 (Luke)
Falcons at Packers: Green Bay 23-13 (Drew), Green Bay 24-21 (Luke)
Titans at Broncos: Denver 31-21 (Drew), Denver 34-20 (Luke)
Rams at Cardinals: Arizona 26-10 (Drew), Arizona 17-13 (Luke)
Giants at Chargers: San Diego 38-17 (Drew), San Diego 31-23 (Luke)
Seahawks at 49ers: San Francisco 20-17 (Drew), San Francisco 20-16 (Luke)
Panthers at Saints: New Orleans 24-20 (Drew), New Orleans 27-21 (Luke)
Cowboys at Bears: Chicago 28-27 (Drew), Dallas 27-20 (Luke)
Fordham at Towson: Tigers 35-31 (Drew), Tigers 27-23 (Luke)

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

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How will Pitta fit into Ravens offense upon returning?

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return in early September, tight end Dennis Pitta has been imagined as the potential late-season savior for the Ravens.

With the league’s 29th-ranked offense and 19th in passing offense, the Ravens certainly can use whatever boost Pitta might offer as Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings represents his first realistic chance of playing in 2013. Though the fourth-year tight end’s return in Week 14 isn’t set in stone, the meeting with the Vikings seems like a logical tuneup to work him back into live-game action before three crucial games against projected playoff teams to conclude the regular season.

But what exactly can the Ravens expect when Pitta makes his long-awaited return to the field?

“I’m sure he probably still feels a little weak, and there are probably some things he is going to have to feel himself through,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He hasn’t run a full-speed route against defenders in a long time, so you have to allow some adjustment time for that. We’ll see how it goes.”

When healthy, Pitta’s attributes are unquestioned as his 6-foot-4 frame creates matchup problems for safeties and linebackers and his ability to find windows within zone coverage is as good as any in the league. Whether lining up as a traditional tight end or in the slot, Pitta’s chemistry with Flacco is something that should return more quickly than the typical rapport between a quarterback and pass-catcher.

But the offseason hype of Pitta stepping into the role of departed slot receiver Anquan Boldin is unlikely to be realized at this late juncture and after such a long layoff. Like many players coming off major leg injuries such as a torn ACL, his speed may not be up to par initially despite a clean bill of health to return to the field just over fourth months after dislocating and fracturing his right hip. Asking Pitta to do things on the field with which he isn’t familiar probably isn’t in the Ravens’ best interest in the final month of the regular season.

Despite fans’ daydreams of what his return might mean for a passing game that’s lacked a reliable option in the middle of the field, Pitta shouldn’t be confused for Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham after he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. Even after the promotion of Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator last December and the increased emphasis on using the middle of the field, Pitta only played 60 to 70 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in most games and isn’t known for his blocking ability.

That reality coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Pitta from a physical standpoint means tight end Ed Dickson will continue to play a significant role in the offense. Clearly a disappointment as a receiver in only making 16 catches for 211 yards this season, Dickson is the only capable blocking tight end on the 53-man roster.

“In things that you don’t see, he’s been doing a great job in terms of his blocking at the line of scrimmage and out on the perimeter as well,” said Caldwell of Dickson. “He’s doing a good job, he’s working extremely hard at it, and he continues to improve.”

What Pitta’s return means for veteran backup Dallas Clark will be more interesting as the two have fairly similar skill sets in working best while flanked out from a normal tight end position. The 34-year-old Clark only played nine snaps two weeks ago against the New York Jets and 23 against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving, and his role only figures to diminish with Pitta back in the picture.

However, with the Ravens’ lack of consistent targets inside the red zone this season, the combination of Pitta and Clark on the field together is an intriguing possibility for Flacco. The only problem with such a look near the goal line would be further limiting the Ravens’ ability to run the football, which has already been brutally ineffective this season.

Should Pitta quickly show he is 100 percent upon his return, Clark’s presence would appear unnecessary, but Caldwell seems more than open to finding ways to keep the veteran involved in the offense.

“Dallas has made some great plays for us along the stretch,” Caldwell said. “You still flash in your head the fourth-down play in Chicago he made with one hand. The guy has made some great catches, some touchdown catches for us as well. We’ll be able to figure it out and work it out. We’ll just see what the doctors say in terms of Dennis, how much he can play or if he can play — all those kinds of things. Those are yet to be seen. Until then, we work them and give the guys the snaps that they can get. We can’t give them enough snaps in practice.”

Likely to play a limited number of snaps if he does return on Sunday, Pitta will be monitored closely as there is no way to fully simulate how he’ll respond to live-game contact during practices at this late stage of the season. If he’s holding up well, Pitta’s logical fit would be to simply fill the role that he did last year in lining up at tight end in three-wide, one-back sets and occasionally working out of the slot.

But the tight end also has the rest of his career to think about and is deserving of a nice payday as an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens desperately want him for their final playoff push and Pitta wants to show general manager Ozzie Newsome that he’s healthy and ready to resume his playing career after such a serious injury while helping the offense down the stretch.

But common sense must prevail as the Ravens will lean heavily on how Pitta is feeling, trying to resist the urge to push him too hard too fast. There’s little precedent for a player to return from this kind of an injury in such a short amount of time, meaning the Ravens, Pitta, and the medical staff have been forced to feel it out as they go along.

Any production they get will just be the icing on the cake.

“The health of the player comes first,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thing — his ability to withstand the rigors of a game. I think we’re on track that way, but we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

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Dumervil, Vikings’ Peterson sidelined for second straight day

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Dumervil, Vikings’ Peterson sidelined for second straight day

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A key player for both the Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday as linebacker Elvis Dumervil and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson continue to be sidelined with nagging injuries.

Neither player is expected to miss Sunday’s game, but Dumervil’s absence for a second straight day does raise some concern that he’s not progressing from a nagging ankle injury as quickly as the Ravens initially hoped. Dumervil hurt the ankle late in the first half of last week’s game against Pittsburgh before returning to play early in the third quarter.

“He got through the game and he got back in and played,” said coach John Harbaugh about Dumervil’s status on Monday. “He looks OK. We’re going to have to nurse some things, just like we do with a lot of different guys.”

Leading the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards, Peterson is nursing a groin injury, but Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters the 2012 league MVP should be ready to practice on Friday. The 28-year-old rushed for a season-high 211 yards in the Vikings’ overtime win over Chicago last week.

Tight end Dennis Pitta was practicing once again as he moves closer to a potential return for Sunday’s game. A team source says the fourth-year tight end has taken some full-team reps for the first time this week, but the Ravens are trying not to pressure Pitta and want him to feel comfortable in deciding when he’s ready to return.

He was limited to just individual work in the week leading up to the New York Jets game and wasn’t able to do much last week with the Ravens only holding walk-throughs on a short week with a Thursday night game. The organization has until 4 p.m. on Saturday to place Pitta on the 53-man roster for him to be eligible to play against the Vikings.

“He’s coming along, but he’s getting his feet back under him,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said on Thursday. “He’s moving well. For him, I’m sure it’s going to be a work in progress. He’s getting a lot more work this week than he did last week, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Reserve defensive backs Asa Jackson (thigh) and Brynden Trawick (ankle) were both absent from practice while starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (concussion) was upgraded to full participation on Thursday.

Here is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle), CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (shoulder), WR Brandon Stokley (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (abs)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (concussion)

MINNESOTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Larry Dean (knee), RB Adrian Peterson (groin), QB Christian Ponder (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Jared Allen (finger), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), S Jamarca Sanford (ankle), DT Sharif Floyd (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Matt Asiata (shoulder), DT Fred Evans (knee), DE Everson Griffen (toe), S Andrew Sendejo (toe)

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Peterson first of big names Ravens must stop in final month

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Peterson first of big names Ravens must stop in final month

Posted on 04 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even if they’re fortunate enough to only play him once every four years, the Ravens are fully aware of the greatness of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

In fact, Peterson is only the first of several of the NFL’s best the Ravens must stop over the final month of the season to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season under coach John Harbaugh.

Next week, the Ravens take on Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, the undisputed best wide receiver on the planet today. The week after, it’s one of the best quarterbacks in league history in Tom Brady. And if the Ravens can get past the first three while remaining upright in terms of their postseason fate, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green awaits in the regular-season finale.

No sweat, right?

But the Ravens can only focus on Peterson and Minnesota for now with all discussion of Sunday’s game centered around stopping the five-time Pro Bowl running back and 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player. Peterson leads the league with 1,208 rushing yards after collecting more than 2,000 on the ground last year coming off a torn ACL at the end of the 2011 season.

“What’s his nickname, ‘All Day?’” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “The man runs hard all day. It’s going to be interesting. It’s definitely a challenge for us, and we’re really looking forward to it. We’ll have to see what’s up on Sunday.”

Only a handful of defensive players remain on the roster from the last time the Ravens took on Peterson and the Vikings at the Metrodome in 2009, but the memory of the 6-foot-1, 217-yard back rushing for 143 yards on 22 carries was a difficult one for a defense that prides itself on stopping the run. Baltimore has allowed over 100 rushing yards in six of its 12 games, but only one of those contests resulted in an individual century-mark rusher as Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy ran for 120 yards in Week 6.

Aside from a four-week stretch earlier this season when the Ravens allowed 140 or more rushing yards three times — against Buffalo, the Packers, and Pittsburgh — the run defense has been strong, ranking sixth in the league by allowing 100.1 rushing yards per game. Dean Pees’ unit has allowed only 3.7 yards per carry, but the Ravens haven’t faced a back with Peterson’s incredibly rare combination of speed, size, toughness, and agility.

In addition to following gap assignments and simply staying home to protect against cutbacks, the common theme expressed by the Ravens Wednesday was the need to gang-tackle to neutralize Peterson’s ability to shed defenders. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads the league with 801 yards after contact, which is over 200 more than second-place Marshawn Lynch of Seattle.

“Everybody has to tackle. You have to have a whole defensive effort,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “Everybody needs to run to the ball. One guy doesn’t usually bring him down. He’s one of those backs that can change the game on any play.”

The numbers support that sentiment as Peterson is averaging 3.1 yards per attempt after contact this season; the Ravens’ struggling running game collects only 2.9 yards overall per carry.

As if his reputation for being a bruising running back that breaks tackles wasn’t enough, Peterson is also tied for second in the NFL with eight runs of 20 or more yards. Suggs recalled a 58-yard run Peterson collected in the Vikings’ 33-31 win in 2009 and how scary it can be to see him find the second and third levels of the defense.

“It’s not a good scene when you’re behind [No.] 28,” Suggs said. “You just hope you’ve got somebody fast enough on the team to catch the guy. But if you keep him in front of you, then you’ve got a good chance of containing him.”

Of course, even with Peterson, the Vikings are 3-8-1 and possess the league’s 25th-ranked passing game as the quarterbacking trio of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman have been unable to generate any consistency through the air. The Vikings’ passing game ineptitude has allowed teams to put eight men in the box far too often, making it likely that safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam will take turns playing close to the line of scrimmage in an effort to slow the intimidating back.

Such defensive looks make it even more impressive that Peterson is leading the league in rushing for the second straight year with not much help behind him in terms of a passing game.

With Ponder not expected to start while recovering from a concussion, the Ravens will likely see Cassel under center, a signal-caller they harassed incessantly in a 2010 wild-card victory against Kansas City. Baltimore is saying all the right things about the Vikings’ talented trio of wide receivers in former Packer Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, but the numbers suggest that a huge day from Peterson is the Vikings’ only realistic hope for an upset on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

“He’s a threat every time he touches the ball, so we’ll have our hands full,” Harbaugh said. “But it just can’t be that. You can’t sleep on the rest of their talent. They’ve got a number of very good tight ends that can make plays. They’ve got a number of very talented receivers that can make plays. They are a fully complemented offense talent-wise.”

The key word is containment as Peterson has only been held under 75 rushing yards four times this season. The Vikings running back is too talented not to get his yards, but the Ravens must prevent him from going off like he did last week against the Bears for over 200 rushing yards in an overtime win.

The overall Week 14 competition is underwhelming for the Ravens as they begin the final quarter of the season on Sunday, but Peterson is just the first of several big names that lie in their path to the postseason.

It doesn’t get any easier after that with Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati looming after that.

“Isn’t that everybody’s motivation? You get the chance to go up against the best,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We get the opportunity this week to go up against one of the best running backs, and then the week after that, we get a chance [against] one of the better receivers in the league. It’s everybody’s motivation to come and bring their ‘A’ game. We wouldn’t be in this game if we weren’t trying to compete with the best.”

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Women’s College Basketball-Big Ten/ACC Challenge: Ohio State @ Maryland (Wednesday 7pm Comcast Center), Siena @ Maryland (Monday 7pm Comcast Center); NBA: Milwaukee Bucks @ Washington Wizards (Friday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Denver Nuggets @ Washington Wizards (Monday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Comcast SportsNet/NBA TV); Boxing: Zab Judah vs. Paulie Malignaggi (Saturday 8pm from Brooklyn live on Showtime); Auto Racing: NASCAR Awards Banquet (Friday 9pm from Las Vegas live on Fox Sports 2)

10. Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Wednesday 7:30pm Verizon Center); Halestorm (Wednesday 7:30pm Rams Head Live), Panic! at the Disco (Monday 8pm Rams Head Live); Spacehog & Sponge (Friday 7:30pm Baltimore Soundstage), Monster Magnet (Sunday 8pm Baltimore Soundstage); Carbon Leaf (Friday 8pm Saturday 3pm & 8pm Rams Head on Stage); Megadeth (Wednesday 8pm Fillmore Silver Spring), NOFX (Friday 7:25pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Matisyahu (Monday 7pm 9:30 Club); Muse “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium” available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

I don’t care what face you’re making, it doesn’t change how much I secretly love TSO.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to Soundstage Sunday night, but you should sing along with this tune for me.

I believe by law Carbon Leaf is not allowed to go more than a month without playing around here.

I’ll be the Muse record doesn’t suck.

9. Jeff Dunham (Thursday 7pm Patriot Center); Donnell Rawlings (Thursday-Saturday Magooby’s Joke House); The Wolverine” available on Blu-Ray/DVD (Tuesday); Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Tuesday-Sunday France-Merrick Performing Arts Center at The Hippodrome); Parade of Lighted Boats (Saturday 6pm Fells Point/Inner Harbor); “A Monumental Occasion” (Thursday 5pm Mount Vernon Place)

I don’t really have a lot to say about any of this. Sorry. I didn’t really have time to study if we’re being fair.

Instead, courtesy of The Robb Report, for Christmas this year I’d like you to buy me a backyard stadium for $30 million. For reals.

I would also settle for this $83 million sky yacht.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Despite crowded wild-card picture, Ravens’ task clear over final month

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Despite crowded wild-card picture, Ravens’ task clear over final month

Posted on 02 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens entered the weekend with the rare chance to not only rest but take a long look at the rest of a crowded AFC playoff picture.

Moving into the No. 6 spot in the conference by way of their 22-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday night, the Ravens could give thanks at the end of the holiday weekend for still holding the final wild-card position due to their tie-breaking win over the 6-6 Miami Dolphins earlier in the season. But four teams linger with 5-7 records, and different factors are working for and against them in the chase to play football in January.

There’s plenty of watching and wondering what will happen over the season’s final four weeks.

“Everybody is playing everybody right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “With so many teams involved, it’s going to be the way it’s going to be. One team wins, another teams loses. A lot of times, it helps us either way, and it hurts us both ways — it doesn’t really matter.”

The Dolphins have only one game remaining against teams that are .500 or better (New England).

Pittsburgh plays three of its final four games at Heinz Field and only one of those four contests comes against an opponent with a winning record (Cincinnati).

Despite a crippling quarterback situation, the New York Jets play only one team with a winning record and it’s an NFC opponent (Carolina).

After a disappointing home loss to the Bengals that did no favors to the Ravens’ AFC North title hopes, the Chargers still play three of the final four games at home.

And even 5-7 Tennessee has games remaining against Jacksonville and Houston, two of the worst teams in the NFL.

It’s a lot to process as we start tracking conference marks, records against common opponents, and strength of victory, but Harbaugh and the Ravens choose to focus only on what they can control with so many scenarios still alive with four games to go. The hope of a division title will depend on the Bengals slipping at least once or twice leading into the Week 17 meeting between the teams in Cincinnati, but advancing to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season is a clear path if the Ravens can avoid treacherous detours along the way.

“What matters is us; we just have to win,” Harbaugh said. “If we win games, things are going to work out for us. If we don’t, things are going to be tough. That’s what we have to take care of; we have to take care of ourselves.”

Though facing the best running back on the planet in Adrian Peterson doesn’t sound like a layup, the Ravens will face their last opponent with a record below .500 Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings come to town to conclude a three-game homestand. After that, the road becomes bumpier than at any other point this season with a Monday night road game at NFC North-leading Detroit, a Sunday night home finale against AFC East-leading New England, and a regular-season finale in Cincinnati.

The Ravens hold the one-game edge over all No. 6 seed contenders after Miami, but they’ll still need to win three of their final four to get to the 9-7 mark, a standard that would very likely put them in the postseason. An 8-8 record could still conceivably land the No. 6 seed in the AFC, but such a path will depend on tie-breakers and considerable help from other results.

The good news is Baltimore appears to be getting hot at the right time. After winning two straight for only the second time all season, the Ravens are back at .500 and are on the verge of getting tight end Dennis Pitta back to provide a boost to a below-average offense. Experience is certainly on their side as they can simply point to last year to remember it’s all about clicking when the stakes are at their highest.

However, these Ravens are also 1-5 on the road and figure to need to win at least one of their final two road games. Only one of Baltimore’s six wins — their Nov. 10 home win over the Bengals — has come against teams currently holding a winning record and only one other victory — an Oct. 6 win at Miami — came against a team at the .500 mark.

The Ravens believe they’re getting better and are peaking at the right time. They’ll have every opportunity to show that in the month of December.

Their playoff lives will depend on it.

“We are in position to control our own destiny,” Harbaugh said. “That is what you try to accomplish going into December, so we’ve accomplished that. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it and to go ahead and control our destiny, win the games we have to win, starting with this one – and this is the only one that matters right now – and take it from there.”

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Holtby Shines Again as Caps Win in Shootout

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Holtby Shines Again as Caps Win in Shootout

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby is in the zone right now. The Washington net minder, who was unfairly assaulted last week by a lunatic Flyers goalie, stopped 33 shots and all three shootout attempts from a very good Minnesota Wild hockey club to allow his team to prevail, 3-2, in the gimmick, at the Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin notched a power play goal early on and Marcus Johansson tied it late after some hard work by Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich before Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone tally in the skills competition to push Washington’s record to 9-7.

The Capitals have a four game winning streak and now head out west to take on Phoenix and Colorado on Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively.

Call me a glass half full guy tonight. This wasn’t a pretty victory, but the Caps did work hard against a team that does the same. Minnesota doesn’t allow a lot of shots or chances so you have to be patient against them, especially since it seems all American defensemen Ryan Suter never leaves the ice (36:51 played on Thursday night). The shots on goal were 35-27 in favor of the Wild but a closer look at shot attempts had the Caps winning that battle, 57-51.

Both goalies were good and each team went 1 for 3 on the power play. So it is no surprise that this contest ended up in extra time. It was a fairly even battle but the Capitals prevailed because they are really good in shootouts under Coach Adam Oates (4-0 this season).

Ovechkin notched his 13th goal in 14 games, but to me, the skater who has been really instrumental during this streak is Backstrom. Nicky is dominating the play when he is on the ice. He is so strong on his skates and wins the large majority of board battles. His stick handling and passing are amazing and he’s shooting the puck more. His move around Suter late in the game, lifting the puck to create a lane to shoot from, was a thing of beauty and Josh Harding had to come up big to stop that one. Ovechkin is going to get his goals and he’ll get even more if Backstrom continues to play at the high level he’s playing right now. #19 doesn’t get the credit he deserves around the league, but I doubt he cares. From talking to him over the years I know he cares most about winning.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the last four wins is the Capitals goaltending. They’ve gotten four super starts in a row (three by Holtby and one from Neuvirth). Holtby made some huge stops late in regulation when the Wild were gifted with a power play (memo to Ian Walsh: what a garbage call on Erat!) that also gave them a hard to defend 4 on 3 in overtime for 61 seconds. There is no doubt in hockey that goaltending is the most important position and #70 delivered there.

The thing to like about this win, outside of super goaltending and the play of Backstrom, was the effort. Washington played hard but the other guys get paid too so it isn’t going to be all roses every night. This club kept grinding against a stingy team and found a way to tie it up late when Minnesota usually closes those types of games out.

On the flip side, the Caps still are turning the puck over too much and do have a tendency to puck watch and not cover their opponents in their own end at times. That needs to improve. The injuries to Jake Hillen and John Erskine have put the Caps in a bind on the left side of their defense. Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt are playing because of the injuries. I’ve liked Schmidt since his first preseason game in Baltimore but sometimes he’s in over his head in the NHL. He could use a year in the AHL to properly develop. But there are really no alternatives at this point until GM George McPhee makes a deal for a defensemen. Trades are best made when a team is going well and the Caps are certainly heading in that direction. They have a good forward in Eric Fehr sitting in the press box and Evgeny Kuznetsov likely slated to come over in the spring to play in the NHL, so McPhee has some strengths he can leverage to try and upgrade his defense, which sure seems needed if Washington wants to go deep in the post season. But it takes two to tango and there is plenty of time to make any necessary moves.

Tonight the Caps can thank Holtby and effort for a win against what appears to be a good Western Conference team. Next up are two that just may be even better.

Notes: Washington lost handily in the faceoff department, 34-25…Wilson only played 6:30 but he was a huge factor in the tying goal helping Johansson get the puck and come out of the corner to score while Laich ran havoc in front of the cage…credit Schmidt for not getting down on himself after some tough shifts. The kid played 23:53 and is learning. He had some really good shifts too, so overall he’s been impressive. It is baptism by fire for him…by the way, the Flyers lost 3-0 tonight, boy do those goons stink!

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Two former Greyhounds selected in NLL Draft

Posted on 17 September 2013 by WNST Staff

Acton, Hawkins Selected In NLL Entry Draft

 

TORONTO – Former Loyola University Maryland men’s lacrosse All-Americans Reid Acton and Josh Hawkins were selected in last night’s National Lacrosse League (NLL) 2013 Entry Draft.

Acton was a third-round selection of the Minnesota Swarm, while the Vancouver Stealth picked Hawkins in the fifth round. They are the first Loyola players to be drafted by a team from the indoor league since current Director of Men’s Lacrosse Operations P.T. Ricci was in 2009.

Both players recently completed their first professionals seasons in the outdoor Major League Lacrosse League (MLL), helping both of their sides reach MLL Championship Weekend.

Acton and Hawkins started the season as teammates with the Hamilton Nationals – Hawkins was a first-round selection of the team, Acton a fourth rounder – but Hawkins was traded to the Charlotte Hounds on July 2.

The Nationals finished the regular-season with a 9-5 record and lost in the semifinals to eventual the MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks. Acton played in four games for the Nationals and picked up four ground balls.

Hawkins suited up in three games for the Nationals, scoring a pair of goals and grabbing eight ground balls, before being traded. He then saw action in five games for the Hounds who finished with a 7-7 regular-season mark before beating previously undefeated Denver in the MLL Semifinals.

With the Hounds, Hawkins scored three goals in the regular-season to go with 12 ground balls. He then had an assist in the MLL Semifinals.

Both players were two-time All-Americans for the Greyhound sin 2012 and 2013 and helped Loyola to 46 victories, three NCAA Championships appearances and the 2012 NCAA title during the time at Loyola.

Acton tallied 85 ground balls and 53 caused turnovers, to go with two goals and an assist, as a defender for Loyola, and Hawkins scored 26 goals and had nine assists, 172 ground balls nad 34 caused turnovers on the Greyhounds’ rope unit as a short-stick midfielder.

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Chen lands on 15-day DL with strained right oblique

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Chen lands on 15-day DL with strained right oblique

Posted on 13 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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The news wasn’t good for Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen on Monday as the left-hander is on his way to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette told multiple reporters the injury suffered in Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Twins is indeed an oblique injury that will sideline him for the foreseeable future. Manager Buck Showalter had expressed hope following Sunday’s game that it was just a cramp.

Chen was seen holding his right side after recording the final out of the fifth inning and was replaced by right-hander Tommy Hunter in the sixth inning. The Taiwanese southpaw pitched five shutout innings and was lifted after throwing just 73 pitches.

He was re-evaluated on Monday, which was the first of two days off for the Orioles this week. The injury leaves Baltimore with just three healthy starters in their current rotation and will force Showalter and Duquette to once again look to the minor leagues for starter help.

Oblique strains typically lead to longer DL stints than the 15-day minimum and can flare up easily if a pitcher tries to return too early.

Already dealing with starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on the 15-day DL due to a blister on his right thumb, the Orioles can make it to Saturday before needing an additional starter behind Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel, and Freddy Garcia. Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens started for Triple-A Norfolk on Monday — allowing five earned runs in seven innings of work — and would be working on regular rest for a potential promotion to make Saturday’s start in Baltimore.

The club could also turn to right-hander Steve Johnson, who would be eligible to be recalled prior to the end of the normal 10-day waiting period if he were to take Chen’s spot because of an injury. Johnson was optioned back to Norfolk following his rough start in Minnesota on Saturday night.

The Orioles hope to see Gonzalez make a rehab start later this week, but a scheduled bullpen session at Target Field this weekend was pushed back to give his blister more time to heal. Gonzalez is eligible to return from the DL next Sunday, but it’s looking more like he’ll need at least an extra day or two after that before rejoining the Baltimore rotation and that’s assuming there are no more setbacks.

In addition to Chen’s oblique strain, Norfolk right-hander Jake Arrieta was scratched from Sunday’s start due to right shoulder tenderness. According to Showalter, Arrieta’s shoulder has bothered him for a few days and it remains unclear whether he’ll simply be pushed back a few days or skipped in the Tides rotation altogether. Concern doesn’t appear to be too high at this point, but shoulder soreness for a pitcher is clearly something a club never wants to hear.

Showalter told reporters prior to Sunday’s game that the club was considering recalling Arrieta instead of left-hander Mike Belfiore for extra bullpen help after starters pitched just 13 innings in Minnesota, but Arrieta’s tender shoulder changed that plan.

Belfiore was optioned back to Norfolk on Monday afternoon, with no corresponding move expected to be made until Tuesday.

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