Free NFL Pick: New Orleans at Baltimore 12-19-2010

December 18, 2010

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New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens

Sunday December 19th, 2010 1:00 PM EST

Line: Baltimore -1

Overview:

The 9-4 Ravens are fighting for their playoff lives. They narrowly missed a chance to knock off Pittsburgh and grab hold of the AFC North. As it stands, they are battling with the Jets and Chargers/Chiefs for a Wild Card spot. If they slip up at this point, the Ravens put themselves at risk, despite having a soft remaining schedule after this week.

New Orleans is one game out of first place in the brutal NFC South, despite being 10-3. With a win this week, they would all but guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs and keep their hopes of winning the division alive. Both teams face a tough battle, as they have both held their own against the best of the best in the NFL.

Keys to the Game:

  • After missing nine games, the return of Pierre Thomas was anticlimactic. Even so, the Saints now have their one-two punch back in action, and have added a third threat out of the backfield in the process, with the discovery of Chris Ivory in the absence of Thomas and Reggie Bush. The Saints will be able to rely on their run game to keep defenses out of pass happy coverages, which gives them a wide open offense.
  • Derrick Mason has five touchdowns in his last six games, including two scores last week. Anquan Boldin is obviously the most dangerous target on the field, but Mason has become a viable option. It is easy to get caught up in the physical Ravens offense and double cover Boldin, leaving Mason in a one on one situation. The Saints still need to favor the run game and Boldin, but they can’t sleep on Mason.
  • Drew Brees has led the Saints to six victories in a row, throwing for 300 yards or more in four games since their winning streak began. It is inaccurate to say that his role will be decreased, but his production may come more easily, as he has two of his most valuable weapons back in action. While the Ravens allow their fair share of yardage in the pass game, they also are elite at forcing mistakes. Brees throws interceptions frequently and given the struggles Matt Schaub had at dissecting the Ravens last week for the majority of the game, Brees shouldn’t expect to launch an error free aerial assault on the Ravens with no resistance.
  • Ray Rice has over 100 yards from scrimmage in eight games this year. Joe Flacco utlizes Rice well out of the backfield and while he will surely be an asset in the passing game, Rice will need to have a big day on the ground to pave the way for the Ravens to dissect the Saints. The Saints struggle in stopping the run, so Rice could use this opportunity to post his second 100 yard rushing game of the season.

Key Matchup:

The Ravens’ defensive line Vs. the Saints’ offensive line

  • Jahri Evans, Jermon Bushrod, and Jonathan Stinchcomb are going to have their hands full on Sunday. The offensive line has done an average job in protecting Brees, all things considered with their injuries to their backfield. It will take their best collective effort and probably a running back being left in to help with protection to hold off the Ravens.
  • Haloti Ngata requires the attention of at least two of his opponents on every play. Not only has he accounted for 5.5 sacks of his own this season, he also allows his linebackers to roam free by dominating the backfield and requiring multiple offensive players to block him. Terrell Suggs continues to add to his illustrious career. He has had 6.5 sacks in his last six appearances, giving him ten on the year. If he can manage to drop Brees and force him to make a few mistakes, it could be the difference in this game.

Wrap Up:

The Saints and Ravens are both playing fantastic football. This game is going to come down to the wire and it has equal value for both teams. I’m going with the Ravens because of their involvement in close games with good teams.

Free NFL Pick: Baltimore -1


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