The Ravens continue to hear the talk about whether or not they’re for real.
Their first 3-0 start since 2009 certainly hasn’t come against the most formidable opponents, but the Oakland Raiders are a team many tabbed to take a significant step forward into the AFC playoff picture this season. The Ravens will face their biggest challenge to date on Sunday, but it represents an opportunity to silence the critics doubting just how good they really are.
A 4-0 record would give Baltimore its best start since 2006 and a significant boost in trying to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons since Super Bowl XLVII.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to remain undefeated against Oakland at home in their all-time history. Baltimore holds the 6-2 advantage in the overall regular-season series — and won the only playoff meeting at the end of the 2000 season — despite the Raiders prevailing 37-33 in a Week 2 contest in Oakland last year.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Elvis Dumervil will collect a sack and play roughly 20 snaps in his 2016 debut. Expectations should be tempered after Dumervil missed virtually the entire summer and the first three games of the season coming back from offseason foot surgery, but the Raiders are a mess at right tackle due to injuries and will likely start seventh-round rookie Vadal Alexander. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will have their work cut out for them against the rest of a terrific Oakland offensive line led by ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele, but Dumervil will slip by Alexander for a sack.
2. Khalil Mack will pick up two quarterback takedowns in exploiting a vulnerable Baltimore offensive line. The Ravens are dealing with offensive line issues of their own with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley doubtful to play with a foot injury and rookie left guard Alex Lewis questionable after suffering a concussion. That’s bad news as Mack has yet to collect a sack in 2016, but it’s only a matter of time before the 2015 Pro Bowl selection breaks out. The Ravens will use tight ends to aid in pass protection on the left side, but Mack and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will be a problem.
3. Terrance West will become the first Ravens running back to score a touchdown in 2016. Oakland sports the NFL’s 29th-ranked rush defense and has given up 5.1 yards per carry, leaving no excuse for offensive coordinator Marc Trestman not to get his running game going. Veteran Justin Forsett is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, but he is the Ravens’ best back in pass protection, complicating matters for an offense leaning on the pass. West will receive the bigger load and will find the end zone, but Baltimore will still be looking ahead to Kenneth Dixon’s potential return next week.
4. Joe Flacco and Derek Carr will both throw for over 275 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders have been successful running the football with multiple backs, but they will find more success in the air as Carr gets the ball out quickly to neutralize the Ravens’ A-gap blitzing and overall pass rush. Meanwhile, Flacco will come out throwing against a defense that improved in Tennessee Week 3 but has given up 340 yards per game through the air. The Ravens will mix in a few more deep shots while continuing to work the ball to Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
5. The Ravens offense will finally break through to be the difference in a 30-27 win over Oakland. This one will be somewhat of a shootout with Baltimore being more exposed in coverage than it was over the first three weeks, but the defense will still make a few stops when needed. A passing offense that has looked quite promising at times will finally play a more complete game. The Raiders are a talented team more than capable of winning on Sunday, but they’ve lost 18 of their last 19 games played in the Eastern time zone dating back to 2009 and are playing a long-distance road game for a second straight week. The Ravens are better than many of us thought and will show it with a “style-points” win.