Someone got a visit from Santa Claus and someone got a visit from the Grinch.
The Los Angeles Rams (11-4) have rebounded from an 0-3 November to post a perfect 4-0 December. And at the same time, the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) have been given a lump of coal by going an imperfect 0-4 in this month of giving. In other words, this is a textbook battle between teams going in opposite directions. One has a Christmas glow to them, the other looks like it’s headed to the Land of Misfit Toys.
The Rams are playing for a shot at the best overall record in the NFC as they are tied for second with Tampa Bay and Dallas sitting a game behind Green Bay Packers in the chase for that solitary first-round bye.
The Ravens have gone from an AFC front-runner to the No. 8 spot in the battle for the seven postseason berths. The interesting part is that Lamar Jackson has led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of the three seasons he has been in the league, though now that is in jeopardy.
Los Angeles (11-4) at Baltimore (8-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Lamar be there? Um, will the REAL Lamar be there?
Lamar Jackson has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury but finally returned to practice on Wednesday. The only problem is that he was limping worse than Robby Bosco in the Holiday Bowl (Google it youngins). Then he recorded a "DNP" on Thursday and Friday and was given the "questionable" tag for this game. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said he thinks Jackson has a "chance" to play on Sunday but followed that up with "it's all hands on deck." So if you take what Jackson has shown on the practice field this week (i.e., next to nothing) and read in between the lines, it sure sounds like it will be up to Tyler Huntley (with Josh Johnson backing him up) to break the Ravens' losing skid.
Even if Jackson makes enough of a recovery to get the go-ahead to play, how effective is he going to be? And how badly are Aaron Donald and that Rams front seven gonna be lickin' their chops to get after a hobbled Jackson? It should be pointed out that even with Jackson's mobility and athleticism, Baltimore has given up 49 sacks (tied for the most in the NFL) while Los Angeles is sixth with 42. Even before the injury, Jackson was slogging through the worst stretch of games in his career. Since Week 10, he has posted a Total QBR of 34.3 with just three touchdown passes compared to six interceptions. Yikes.
2. The biggest strength vs. the biggest weakness
Ugh. On paper, this does not bode well for the Ravens. Rams QB Matthew Stafford is ranked fourth in the league in passing yards (4,339) and in QBR (63.6). Oh sure, he can be a little streaky (13 interceptions), but when given time Stafford can be surgeon-like in carving up a defense. And that’s been the case most of the season. Meanwhile, nobody gives up more passing yards per game than the Ravens at 280.5. Of course, last week's 525 yards put up by Joe Burrow has exposed Baltimore's banged-up defense even more. Now on the good side, the Ravens also possess the best run defense in the NFL, giving up just 85.6 yards per game. The problem is that Los Angeles doesn't lean on the ground game all that much, although Sony Michel did run for 131 yards on 27 carries against the Vikings last Sunday.
As mentioned, the Ravens gave up a monstrous 525 yards through the air to the Cincinnati Bengals last week as three receivers — Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd — combined for 404 yards. Now Baltimore faces an even better group of receivers. Cooper Kupp is trying to win the receiving Triple Crown as he's currently No. 1 in the league with 132 catches for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr. is settling into this offense and posted four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown last week. And Van Jefferson averages more than 16 yards per catch and has gains of 52, 79 and 68 yards this year. Not exactly an ideal matchup for a Baltimore secondary that already has five defensive backs on injured reserve, including standout cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and will be down another (Anthony Averett, ribs/chest injury) on Sunday.
It is interesting to note what is at stake here for the boys from Edgar Allan Poe-town. According to ESPN's Football Power Index if the Ravens lose this game their chances to make the playoffs plummet to eight percent. If they win here, it jumps back up to 59 percent. So they know what lies ahead of them. The last time these two played the Ravens beat the Rams 45-6 in L.A. on "Monday Night Football" during Week 12 of the 2019 season. Plus the Rams haven’t won an NFL game in Baltimore since 1969. But c'mon, that long 51-year drought will have to come to an end here. Primarily because of the fact that they are the better team.
Prediction: Rams 28, Ravens 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.