The Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions meet for just the fifth time Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with both teams looking to boost their position for the playoffs.
The Ravens (6-5) reclaimed the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with a 23-16 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night.
Meanwhile, the Lions (6-5) endured a deflating 30-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving that snapped a three-game winning streak. Detroit resides one game behind the Atlanta Falcons (7-4) for the final NFC postseason berth.
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“This is a huge game for them and us,” Baltimore safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s going to be playoff atmosphere. It’s win or go home for both of us. We’re just trying to scratch, claw, get a win by any means.
“Are we playing our best ball? No. Sometimes, it’s the team that wants it the most that gets the win in these games because they’re so important and pivotal to get to the playoffs.”
The Ravens, who are 3-1 all-time versus Detroit, won three of their past four games, helped by facing several backup quarterbacks. That might not be the case against the Lions and Matthew Stafford, who is fifth in the NFL with 3,010 passing yards. He is also ranked fourth with 21 touchdowns and has just six interceptions.
Stafford is battling an ankle injury he sustained against the Vikings, but he was a full participant at practice on Wednesday. The Ravens are practicing as if Stafford will play.
“Matthew Stafford is an excellent player,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s one of the top quarterbacks in football without question. He throws it the most of any quarterback in football. They do a great job with it.”
The Ravens lead the NFL with 18 interceptions. Baltimore also ranks second in points allowed per game with 17, behind only Jacksonville (15.3).
Stafford has been impressed with the Ravens’ performance. He knows the Lions will have to do an effective job protecting the football to come away with a win Sunday.
“They do a good job really at all levels,” Stafford said about the Ravens. “Their defensive line does a great job of getting pressure. There linebackers and (defensive backs) are facing the quarterback a bunch and making really nice plays on the football. They rally to the ball, the ball gets tipped and you never see it hit the ground much when they’re playing. They’re doing a really good job turning it over. Their defense is really good.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense has struggled to make big plays downfield. Baltimore has league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack. At this point of the season, though, Flacco is only concerned about victories and getting into the playoffs.
“It may not always look pretty and it may not look great moving forward, but we’re going to do what we have to do to win football games,” Flacco said. “That’s the way it is sometimes, especially in the second half when we get up on teams and our defense is turning the ball over. You get to the point in the game where you’re like, ‘We have this thing won unless we do something stupid.’ We’ve been able to do it.”
Despite those struggles, the Lions are still wary of Flacco’s big arm. Detroit’s secondary fully expects to be tested in this pivotal matchup.
“The one thing about Joe Flacco that definitely stands out is how strong his arm is,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “The ability to throw the ball that far always presents a challenge when you’re a safety because the ball has a tendency to go over your head. He can throw it a real, real long way. And he’s a veteran guy. He’s been around for a long time and won a Super Bowl. You always have to be ready for a guy like that.”