The Baltimore Ravens return to the scene of one of their greatest triumphs to take on a New Orleans Saints team that’s hoping for some much-needed home cooking as Week 12 wraps up on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Ravens (6-4) won the last time they played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Super Bowl XLVII in Feb. 2013), while the Saints (4-6) have lost their past two homes games.
New Orleans hasn’t lost three straight home games since 2005, the season before Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to the Saints. This season, New Orleans is two games below .500 but still very much alive for a playoff spot thanks to a mediocre NFC South. Baltimore currently trails AFC North leader Cincinnati and needs a win to tie Pittsburgh and Cleveland or John Harbaugh's team will find itself at the bottom of the NFL’s most competitive division. A loss won’t eliminate either team from the playoff picture, but it won’t make their respective postseason paths any easier either.
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New Orleans -3
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Baltimore’s Key to Victory: Grind it Out
The Ravens are 12th in the NFL in total offense (364.8 ypg) thanks to a productive ground game that averages 124.1 yards rushing per game. They have done this with zero production from Ray Rice, the team’s leading rusher each of the past five seasons, as Justin Forsett has come in and more than done the job. Forsett, a seven-year veteran who had never rushed for more than 619 yards prior to this season, is among the top 10 in the league with 721 yards in 10 games. His 5.4 yards per carry average is tops among all running backs. When Baltimore has committed to the run, it has worked out quite well. In the Ravens’ six wins they have averaged 147.8 yards rushing per game. In the four losses that number plummets to just 88.5. It’s eerily similar to what has happened defensively with New Orleans. The Saints have allowed 137.3 yards rushing per game in its six losses, and held opponents to 80.8 in their wins. Besides moving the ball, a productive ground game against New Orleans can be effective in that it limits the number of opportunities Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense gets. Even though New Orleans has struggled at home recently, it’s still a good idea to keep Sean Payton’s offense off of the field as much as possible.
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New Orleans’ Key to Victory: Reclaim the Superdome
Going back to last season, the Saints had won 11 games in a row at home before dropping their past two. An offense that had scored 101 points in its first three games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has managed a total of 34 points the past two weeks in losses to San Francisco and Cincinnati. Under Sean Payton, the Saints have played extremely well at home (going 8-0 in both 2011 and ’13) and they need to find a way to rediscover their magic touch in the Superdome. A good start would be taking better care of the football. Payton’s team was even in turnover differential over the first three home games, but is minus-three (4 giveaways, 1 takeaway) the past two. New Orleans entered Week 12 tied for 27th in turnover differential (minus-9), as Rex Ryan’s defense has only produced 10 takeaways. This makes ball security a must for Drew Brees and company. The Saints also would like to get back to running the ball like they were a couple of weeks ago when Mark Ingram returned from a broken hand. After averaging 144.7 yards per game rushing in a three-game stretch, San Francisco held Ingram and the other ball carriers to just 75 yards on the ground last week. Baltimore’s defense has been pretty solid against the run (84.5 ypg, 5th) all season, but New Orleans needs to stay grounded in hopes of making things easier for Brees and the passing game. After tonight, the Saints’ two remaining home dates are against NFC South foes Carolina and Atlanta. A win over the Ravens and New Orleans would move into first place and present the Saints with an opportunity to win another division title on home turf. So it’s imperative that that Peyton’s team starts cooking at home again, as their season may depend on it.
New Orleans is two games below .500 and somewhat reeling after back-to-back home losses. However, the Saints have yet to lose three in a row in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era and I don’t think it will happen tonight. Baltimore has a strong running game and a stout defensive line that could cause problems for the Saints’ passing game, but the Ravens also haven’t played that well on the road and the defense is somewhat vulnerable on the back end. Look for Payton to try and re-establish his ground game with Mark Ingram, which opens up things down field for the likes of Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. Baltimore won the last time it played in the Big Easy, but the Superdome is the Saints’ domain.