Two teams already at a potential crossroads in the 2016 season.
After their first 3-0 start since 2009, the Ravens have lost two straight and fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman on Monday. Meanwhile, the New York Giants have dropped three in a row after a 2-0 start to their season.
Injuries are a major story as six key Ravens players are listed as doubtful or worse for Sunday’s game, but Baltimore doesn’t have time to waste with two straight road games before the Week 8 bye and Marty Mornhinweg trying to breathe life into the NFL’s 22nd-ranked offense. The Giants won’t feel sorry for the Ravens as first-year head coach Ben McAdoo needs a win to reverse his own team’s fortunes.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play the Giants at MetLife Stadium for the first time ever. Baltimore is 3-1 in the regular-season history and won the last regular-season meeting between these teams, a 33-14 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 23, 2012. Of course, the Ravens also defeated the Giants by a 34-7 margin in Super Bowl XXXV.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. The Ravens will rush a season-high 30 times with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon each gaining at least 50 yards. Everyone has clamored for Baltimore to run more, and Mornhinweg will do just that with a banged-up offensive line going against the league’s 17th-ranked defense. The Giants will key on West with his 5.0 yards per carry average, so this might be the time to show different looks with Dixon, who didn’t play after the first quarter against Washington. The Giants have allowed only 3.5 yards per carry this season, but the Ravens have to stick with the run if this game is close.
2. The Giants will match their full season total by sacking Joe Flacco four times. Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley are inactive, and Rick Wagner is no sure bet to start even if he’s active on Sunday. Even if the Ravens commit to the run and use designed roll-outs and waggles to keep Flacco away from the pass rush, the Giants still have the tandem of Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon that will create problems for Alex Lewis and James Hurst. If Baltimore falls behind and needs to throw, it could get ugly in this department.
3. Mike Wallace and Odell Beckham Jr. will each catch a touchdown of 30 or more yards. If they run as much as we expect, the Ravens should find some opportunities to take more shots down the field as so many offensive players wanted under Trestman. The Giants will also be without starting free safety Nat Berhe, which will give Wallace a greater chance to shake free. The Ravens secondary has held up well, but there were coverage breakdowns last week that Washington failed to exploit in windy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium. Beckham shaking free will result in a different outcome.
4. Matt Judon will collect his first career sack despite the Ravens not getting enough pressure on Eli Manning. Elvis Dumervil is out and head coach John Harbaugh didn’t make it sound as though we’ll see the veteran again until after the bye, meaning the Ravens must start getting pass-rush contributions from younger outside linebackers. Judon has been inactive for the last two games, but he posted three sacks in the preseason while second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith hasn’t shown much so far. The rookie fifth-round pick will flash, but creating enough pressure off the edge will remain an issue.
5. The injury-depleted Ravens will compete, but the Giants will prevail in a 25-17 final. The change at offensive coordinator was already challenging enough for Sunday, but the Ravens are likely to be without top receiver Steve Smith and as many as three starting members of the offensive line on the road. Meanwhile, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is doubtful to play, which will compromise a run defense that’s been superb in 2016. The Ravens still have a reasonable chance to win considering the Giants aren’t very good, but there’s too much unknown and too many injuries to pick them this week.