Point Spread: Cardinals favored by 9 points
Over/Under: 49 points
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
The Baltimore Ravens (1-5) are set to square off with the Arizona Cardinals (4-2) tonight in a game that looked much more intriguing when the National Football League originally released each team’s schedule for the 2015 season. While the Cardinals have been one of the stronger teams in the league this year and are the frontrunners in the NFC West, the Ravens have been quite possibly the league’s most disappointing team in 2015 after being viewed by many experts as a serious Super Bowl contender for most of the past offseason and preseason.
Instead of being a game with major playoff implications for both sides, this has turned into a game where one team is trying to solidify their place atop their division, and the other team is trying to avoid being the team with the worst record in the entire league. With that being said, here is a look at three key matchups that will play a major role in deciding the outcome of this game.
1. Steve Smith Sr. vs. Patrick Peterson
Smith and Peterson are two of the fiercest competitors in the entire league. This fact alone makes the matchup worth watching. And when you factor in Smith’s importance to the Ravens’ offense success, this matchup also has the potential to be one of the biggest deciding factors in the game. If Peterson shuts down Smith, the Ravens will surely struggle to move the ball. On the other hand, if Smith can find a decent amount of success against Peterson, Baltimore will likely be able to keep this game close.
2. Justin Forsett vs. Cardinals’ defensive front seven
For the Ravens to have any chance tonight they will need to get Forsett involved in their offense early and often. When he has carried the ball 20 or more times this season, Baltimore, specifically quarterback Joe Flacco, has been noticeably better offensively. More importantly, however, if the Ravens can get their ground game going, they will be able to shorten the game and keep the Cardinals’ explosive offense off the field.
However, getting Forsett going on the right track won’t be an easy task for the Ravens. The Cardinals’ defensive front seven, led by defensive end Calais Campbell (pictured above), is one of the strongest and most opportunistic fronts in the league. This matchup is one that should be monitored all night.
3. Cardinals’ passing attack vs. Ravens’ secondary
Long story short, this is a matchup of the Cardinals’ strength versus the Ravens’ weakness. For the season, Arizona is averaging 33.8 points per game, a statistic that can mostly be attributed to them having one of the top-five passing attacks in the league. At the same time, Baltimore is giving up 286 yards per game through the air (the fourth-highest total in the league) and 8.2 yards per pass attempt (the fourth-highest total in the league)l they are also allowing opposing quarterbacks to post an average quarterback rating of 101.7 (the sixth-highest total in the league).
Truth be told, the chances of the Ravens completely shutting down the Cardinals’ passing attack are slim-to-none. That said, if Baltimore can keep Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer (pictured above) from beating them singlehandedly, their chances at pulling off a shocking road upset would increase exponentially.
Final Prediction: Cardinals 31, Ravens 20
The Cardinals will dominate the Ravens in all three phases of this game and extend their lead in the NFC West to two full games. Palmer will continue his run of MVP-caliber play with another 300-yard, three touchdown performance, and the Arizona defense will hold the Baltimore offense under 350 total yards.