The surging Dallas Cowboys can complete a season sweep of the AFC North with a victory over the visiting Baltimore Ravens in Week 12.
The Cowboys (8-1) are riding an NFL-best eight-game winning streak and have already beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Dallas coach Jason Garrett, however, acknowledged the Ravens (5-4) pose a huge challenge with the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
“They're a very impressive group,” Garrett said. “They're a very well-coached group. They have a lot of really good players on all three levels of defense. They play with the physical style. It's easy to see why they're among the best defenses in the league.”
Baltimore has bounced back from a four-game losing streak with victories over Pittsburgh and Cleveland to take over sole possession of first place in the division.
The Ravens were the only team in the division to emerge with a victory in Week 11, and they can further extend their lead in the downtrodden AFC North with a win over Dallas.
“When you get the lead, you want to keep the lead,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “When you keep the lead, you want to extend the lead. That is what we aim to do in every game — not always successfully, but that is our goal. Certainly, that is going to be the objective during the course of the season.”
Dallas, meanwhile is in full control of the NFC East. The Cowboys have not lost a game since a 20-19 setback to the New York Giants in the opener.
This matchup features a high-flying Dallas offense, ranked fifth in the NFL, going against the Ravens' lock-down defense. Dallas has confirmed that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott will get the start this week even though veteran Tony Romo is healthy enough to play. Prescott has given the Cowboys a spark this season, throwing for 2,339 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I have playmakers all around me and Pro Bowl guys who have been doing well in this league for a long time,” Prescott said. “My job is easy when you have those guys around you — just to get them the ball and allow them to do what they have done.”
Few players have found any success running against the Ravens' stout defensive line, which is allowing just 71.3 yards per game, also best in the NFL. However, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott is an MVP-caliber season. Elliott leads the NFL with 1,005 yards and has nine touchdowns.
“They are No. (2) running the ball. We are No. 1 against the run,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is NFL football. I think this is very good for our league and our sport. Everybody is going to tune in to watch. To be the best, you have to play the best. It is a challenge for our defense, but we accept it. I think we are just the men for the job.”
The Cowboys, however, have other weapons on offense, primarily with receiver Dez Bryant and an offensive line that has three former first-round picks (offensive tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin).
“The offensive line is the heart of this offense,” Prescott said. “We go as they go. They go out there, they play nasty, they play physical, and they know that.”
The Ravens, on the other hand, are still trying to find more consistency on offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 2,374 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Baltimore has also struggled to get its running game on track, which has put additional pressure on Flacco to make plays. The Ravens will be without rookie left guard Alex Lewis (high ankle sprain) and the status of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) is uncertain. Injuries on the offensive line have contributed to Flacco's struggles this season.
“It hasn't been perfect, and we've got to get better,” Flacco said. “I've got to be better at dealing with some things.”
Dallas has the league's third-ranked run defense, allowing 82 yards per game, so Baltimore's ground attack is facing another stern challenge.
The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that does not have a victory against the Ravens, losing each of the past four meetings.
“That is great,” Harbaugh said of the series. “Does that count in this year's standings? Does that help us in any way? No. So we need to be 1-0 against them this year. That is the goal: 1-0 against them this year.”