Alex Raskin of CBS Sports.com is a respected analyst who is unbiased toward New York sports teams. Still, I didn't expect Raskin to get on the Ravens bus for this one. This game to me is a pick'em. Both teams match up evenly across the board. Even their injury counts are eerily similar. I would even argue that the Giants have more motivation and need to win than the Ravens, who have already backed into the playoffs.
Raskin calls for the Ravens to win big on Sunday…I mean really big. Here we can follow his reasoning:
Giants at Ravens — Week 16
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md. (Shaw Sportexe Momentum Turf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Giants by 2
Forecast: Temperatures in the high 40s. Mostly sunny with winds out of the west at 10 mph.
Records: Giants (8-6; NFC East 2-3), Ravens (9-5; AFC North 4-1)
What Raskin thinks matters: A major reason the Giants have just 32 sacks so far this season is because they haven't been able to play with a lead much over the second half of the year. Logically, teams tend to pass more when they're playing from behind…therefore, less sack opportunities for the Giants as they have trailed in the score for most games.
Making issues worse for the Giants has been their porous run defense, which has yielded 4.6 yards per carry (26th in the NFL).
All of this points to one thing: The Giants need an early lead on Sunday. When New York plays with the lead, they don't have to worry about opposing running backs as much and they can let defensive ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul focus on rushing the passer. When they trail they're putting a lot of pressure on the defense to stop the run and they basically take the potency out of their own pass rush.
Who Raskin thinks matters: A lot of eyes will be on RB Ahmad Bradshaw (knee/foot) if he's able to return this Sunday, but the real difference maker on offense remains WR Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks admitted on Thursday that he and QB Eli Manning have been “a hair” off on their timing this year, but he thinks that's about to change.
On Friday coach Tom Coughlin acknowledged that the Giants have had fewer big plays this year, and the absence of that “threat” has changed the way opposing defenses have played the Giants.
If Nicks and Manning can get on the same page, things will open up for Bradshaw, WR Victor Cruz and TE Martellus Bennett, but for that to happen, Nicks needs to be feeling like his old self.
Raskin's key matchups: Ravens LT Michael Oher will see both Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul (and possibly even DE/SLB Mathias Kiwanuka) on Sunday. The Ravens rank 15th in the NFL in passing attempts and 13th in sacks allowed, so there could be some opportunities for the Giants pass rush. Pierre-Paul (6.5 sacks) isn't having the same success he had last year (16.5 sacks), but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell insists the third-year end is playing very well. Even if Pierre-Paul doesn't get sacks, he is creating pressure and making things more difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Injuries of note: Tuck (shoulder) is questionable and did not practice at all this week, so we could see some movement along the Giants defense. Kiwanuka, Pierre-Paul or DE Adrian Tracy could all see themselves on the left side of the line at some point.
Everyone else worked on Friday, including Bradshaw (knee/foot), Nicks (knee), RG Chris Snee (hip) and C David Baas (hip/shoulder). Coughlin said he expects Ravens LB Ray Lewis (biceps) to be active on Sunday. Ravens S Bernard Pollard (chest), LB Jameel McClain (neck–now ruled out) and RB Vonta Leach (ankle) are also battling injuries. Ravens WR Torrey Smith (head) has yet to take his baseline test. RB Bernard Pierce is also likely out with a concussion. Terrell Suggs is playing with one arm (biceps) on one good leg.
Raskin's Inside Stuff: Giants' KR David Wilson came tumbling back to earth in last week's loss to the Falcons. After gaining 227 yards and a touchdown on four returns in Week 14, Wilson was held to just 66 yards on three returns in Atlanta. The obvious difference was that Falcons P Matt Bosher produced four touchbacks and sent three other offerings deep into the end zone. So, in the course of two weeks, the Giants' average starting field position went from their opponents' 49-yard line to their own 18. Of course, the second leg of that came in a dome.
Baltimore plays outside, not inside a dome, but that hasn't stopped K Justin Tucker from ranking fifth in the NFL in touchbacks. The bottom line is, if Coughlin was expecting to be starting around midfield as the Giants did in Week 14, he's likely going to be disappointed on Sunday.
All of this adds up to Raskin's prediction: Ravens 30, Giants 10.
Wow. I think he's underestimating the injury situation for the Ravens. Baltimore's linebacking crew is a debilitated mess injury-wise, with the possible exception of Paul Kruger. And Raskin doesn't mention the injuries on the Ravens offensive line, which has really struggled to get any kind of good push in recent weeks. RG Marshal Yanda may give it a go (bad ankle). C Matt Birk is pretty banged up but will go. The Ravens are very thin at cornerback right now, too. Jimmy Smith (groin) is back but still not 100 percent.
Unless the Ravens get up early on the Giants, something like 14-0 in the first quarter, I can't see Raskin's prediction coming true. I think it may well turn into a grind-it-out game to the end. I think the Ravens are a weaker team right now than Raskin realizes.