Lions-Ravens Preview

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

The Baltimore Ravens were expected to compete for the AFC North title, but have struggled to find consistency this season. They hope a matchup with the lowly Detroit Lions will help them finally start to do so.

The Ravens look to rebound from a listless and sloppy defeat when they host the Lions on Sunday.

Baltimore (6-6) won its first three games and looked to be a contender for the division crown, but the Ravens have since dropped six of nine. They are three games behind Cincinnati, which can clinch the division with a win at Minnesota on Sunday.

While their chances of capturing the North title for the second time in four years appear slim, the Ravens are among eight teams vying for the two AFC wild-card spots.

They had a big opportunity to gain an advantage in that race Monday, but lost 27-14 at Green Bay after committing a season-high 12 penalties. Five were for pass interference, the most by a team in a game since the New York Giants had five in 2001.

"We've got plenty to be encouraged about," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're in a tight race for the wild card, we are every bit in it. Everybody, they'll say what they'll say. It's a week-to-week proposition in this league."

Baltimore could get a lift if star safety Ed Reed can return from ankle and hip injuries that kept him out Monday, snapping his streak of 64 consecutive games. The five-time Pro Bowler was a late scratch, and he is questionable for Sunday.

If Reed is unable to play, Harbaugh will likely give Tom Zbikowski a second consecutive start, which would be the second of his career. He recorded his first interception last week.

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs missed his third straight game last week with a sprained knee ligament, and his status for Sunday is uncertain.

Perhaps most important for the Ravens is improved play from quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense, which had a season-low 185 yards last week.

Flacco turned in what might have been his worst game of the season, going 15 of 36 for 137 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He had two TD passes, six picks and a 67.0 passer rating in the last five games - a sharp decline from the first seven contests, when he threw 12 TDs with five interceptions and recorded a 95.6 rating.

The Lions, losers of 33 of 36, will be without quarterback Matthew Stafford, who will rest an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

The rookie was hurt at the end of a 38-37 victory over Cleveland on Nov. 22. He put himself back into the game and threw the winning touchdown pass without no time left, then surprisingly started four days later in Detroit's Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay.

Stafford was back under center for most of a 23-13 defeat at Cincinnati last week before aggravating the injury on a botched running play early in the second half. He left the game after being hit late in the fourth quarter.

``If he hadn't taken that hit in the fourth quarter of the Cincy game, we wouldn't be having this discussion,'' coach Jim Schwartz said. ``It was a very similar hit to the one that he took in the Cleveland game and we want to avoid the situation where it becomes something chronic.

``Structurally, everything is still on course. It's sore and we just wanted to avoid a continuing cycle of come back, get hit, come back, get hit. We'll give it time to rest and put it behind him.''

Daunte Culpepper will start in Stafford's place. The 11-year veteran was 2 of 3 for 49 yards against the Bengals, and has thrown for 330 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in two starts this season.

``Daunte is our backup quarterback,'' Schwartz said. ``We've had no change in our depth chart. We have a lot of confidence in Daunte.''

The Lions and Ravens have split two matchups. They last met in Baltimore on Dec. 27, 1998, a 19-10 Ravens victory.

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