With first-place in the AFC on the line, the Baltimore Ravens will take their impressive brand of football to southern California to take on the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football. The Ravens enter this contest with an impressive 10-3 record, and when you assess who they have lost to, it truly should be much better. The Ravens look poised to clinch a fourth straight post-season appearance, but their main focus will be on securing the competitive AFC North divisional crown over their long-time rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Chargers meanwhile are about as inconsistent of a team in recent NFL history. Loaded with talented weapons at most positions, the Chargers simply couldn’t put it together for the first part of the season. Though they’ve won their last two games in dominant fashion, crushing the Jaguars and Bills is much different than battling Baltimore for 60 minutes. San Diego has somewhat played themselves back into the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture, although their hopes will inevitably rely on favors from other squads down the stretch. Right now, they’re playing a confident brand of football and know they must keep taking care of their own business if they want to have a shot later on. One statistic to be aware of entering this contest is how Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers plays in December. The guy is simply remarkable in this month, posting a 22-2 record during his time as San Diego’s starting play-caller. Against a motivated, and Super-Bowl contending squad, it will be interesting to see if the former N.C. State product can add to this total on Sunday evening.
Ravens vs. Chargers Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens -1.5 (-120)
@ San Diego Chargers +1.5 (+100)
Over 44 (-110)
Under 44 (-110)
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Ravens vs. Chargers Pick:
Despite the recent form of the often enigmatic Chargers, and contrary to their impressive December form over the past few seasons, the pick here will be on the hungry and motivated Ravens. For years Baltimore has had to endure Pittsburgh being the class of their division, and have had to play in their fair share of challenging first-round playoff match-ups. This is as good a week as ever to secure a crucial first-round bye for an ailing, veteran-laden Baltimore squad. With rival quarterback Big Ben hurting and having to travel to take on a solid San Francisco squad, the time is now for the Ravens to seize the opportunity and establish themselves not only as the class of the AFC North, but one of the premier teams in the entire NFL.
Look for the Ravens to run the ball down the heart of the weak San Diego front-seven. They’ve been exploited on countless occasions this season, and going against an immensely talented back such as Ray Rice cannot bode well for a San Diego run defense which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
While Baltimore is currently mired in a huge injury bug with crushing ones to key players Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, they are expected to have all of Haloti Ngata, Cory Redding, and Chris Carr back into the fold. While Webb and Lewis are two huge losses on defense, the Ravens possess great depth at many positions, and others have stepped up in their absence.
San Diego meanwhile has had great difficulty replacing their injured starters. Currently playing with a makeshift offensive line protecting Philip Rivers, the Chargers have struggled without key linemen Kris Dielman and Marcus McNeill, and going up against a Ravens defense that has the most sacks in the NFL should scare the living daylight out of Philip Rivers.
Look for the Ravens to employ their traditional brand of smash-mouth football and run the ball down the collective throats of San Diego. While Rivers and the Chargers are tough to beat in December, Baltimore is a whole different type of beast for a relatively soft and dysfunctional Chargers team. The Chargers can be lethal if they get their vertical game going downfield, although look for Baltimore to face little resistance in hurrying Rivers and forcing him to add to his league-leading total in turnovers. Expect the Ravens in a tight contest to squeak out a huge win for their upcoming playoff drive.