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Preview: Ravens at Green Bay Packers

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This is going to be a good game. On paper, the Green Bay Packers seem to be the better team, but it's not a huge advantage. The Packers are favored by 3, but it's probably a pick if this were played on a neutral site. Every play is going to count, and any missed opportunity might be the reason someone loses. 

The official team rankings (based on yardage) from NFL.com:

Team Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 11 6 4 6
Ravens 14 13 6 12

RB Ryan Grant vs. the Ravens run D. Opposing running backs are only averaging 3.5 yards/carry against the Ravens. While this makes it appear that the Ravens have the advantage, it's been hard to predict how Grant will play lately. The offensive line was great at opening running lanes against the 49ers excellent run defense, but they didn't help him much against the Lions when he only had 3.1 yards/carry. Also, the 49ers run a 3-4 defense, just as the Packers and Ravens do, so since the Packers see the 3-4 in practice, maybe that gives them some advantage against a 3-4 defense during a game.

QB Aaron Rodgers vs. the Ravens pass D. Based on the yardage rankings, this looks like a matchup that would favor Rodgers. But the Ravens have held opposing QBs to a rating of 79.0, with 12 TDs (12th fewest) and 12 INTs (7th most). Their pass defense is currently ranked No. 5 overall by Football Outsiders, which would be the best pass defense he's faced so far this season. Though they have lost both starting CB Fabian Washington (torn ACL) and star pass rusher LB Terrell Suggs (torn MCL) in recent weeks. Those injuries are similar to what the Packers have gone through, except LB Aaron Kampman is gone for the season and Suggs should return later this month. In their 2 games without Suggs, who has 3.5 of their 21 sacks on the season, the Ravens were without a sack against the Colts or Steelers, which should help the struggling o-line avoid any disaster. This is a tough matchup for Rodgers, but he's been good to outstanding in every game this season and I wouldn't bet against him.

RB Ray Rice vs. the Packers run D. The Ravens ran the ball a lot in 2008 (37 carries/game), but not nearly so much in 2009 (27.5 carries/game). But their yards/carry has actually gone up from 4.0 to 4.2, in large part to the outstanding season by Rice. I'll still pick the Packers great run defense to win this battle because they haven't struggled against an opponent since RB Cedric Benson's big game in week 2. 

QB Joe Flacco vs. the Packers pass D. WR Derrick Mason and RB Ray Rice are having great seasons, and are the leaders in their passing game. Unfortunately they aren't getting much help from the rest of their receivers, though WR Mark Clayton had a great game against the Steelers last week. Football Outsiders has the Ravens pass offense ranked No. 12 overall, but the Packers pass D is ranked No. 3 by them. This looks like a matchup that would favor the Packers, but with two contrasting points. Flacco has a 90.2 QB rating with 13 TDs and 8 INTs, which is similar to QB Carson Palmer (86.7 rating, 15 TDs, 8 INTs) and he threw for 3 TDs against the Packers, in Lambeau, back in week 2. However, that was the first and only game started by SS Aaron Rouse, who was so bad he was released shortly after the game. If the forecast for snow holds up, that might throw all those stats out the window. 

Special teams and penalties. Though Mike McCarthy won't admit the special teams have been a disaster in 2009, they've been a disaster. The Packers have been getting killed by hidden yards lost on sacks, special teams, and penalties all season. The sacks might not be a problem, as I noted above, the Ravens haven't had a sack in three weeks. The Ravens special teams have been generally good this season, and they recently signed K Billy Cundiff to have fix their only significant weakness: FG attempts. The Packers will lose at least some yards to the Ravens on special teams. Though the Packers have been awful with penalties this season (66.4 yards/game), the only team worse is the Ravens (66.6 yards/game). This has been an area that's killed the Packers this season, but the Ravens can only expect a slight bump from it.

If the snow turns this game into another HD Bowl (aka 2008 playoff win over the Seahawks) I've got no idea how it could turn out. Which ever team can control the line of scrimmage will win a snow game. Assuming there's no snow, this is still a game I expect the Packers to win. Packers 24, Ravens 17.