Overview: On paper, the Rams should win this game. While every N.F.L. team banged up this time of year, the Baltimore Ravens have probably the hardest hit than any other team. The Ravens lost starting cornerback and former Los Angeles Ram Marcus Peters in the preseason. Fellow standout cornerback Marlon Humphreys went down a few weeks ago, and the Ravens gave up 525 yards last week in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, probably the most significant injury news in Baltimore has been the ankle of starting quarterback and former M.V.P. Lamar Jackson. Jackson looked gimpy in practice on Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday or Friday. Typically, that would mean he won't play on Sunday. But Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Friday that there is a chance he may play. Raven's backup quarterback, Tyler "Snoop" Huntley, has played exceptionally well stepping in for him, however. You could make an argument that a healthy Huntley might be a more significant challenge for the Rams defense than a gimpy Jackson who has barely practiced.
A Rams win coupled with an Arizona Cardinal's loss against the Dallas Cowboys would clinch the N.F.C. West title for the Rams. The first seed in the N.F.C. is probably out of reach, but a division title would at least guarantee a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
Rams Defense vs. Ravens Offense: The last time these two teams played, in 2019, the Ravens embarrassed the Rams in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game by a score of 45-6. Lamar Jackson threw five touchdown passes in a blowout that, believe it or not, was probably actually worse than the final score indicates. Some reports say that game had a lot to do with the firing of then-Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. This week, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said that that game is still in the back of his mind. The way Donald has been playing of late, he only needs extra motivation. He was recently named N.F.C. Defensive Player of the Month and has been a one-person wrecking crew.
Donald will probably see a lot of guard Kevin Zeitler, among others. Zeitler is an outstanding lineman, but we're not sure anyone can go one-on-one with Donald at this point unless the Ravens can invent the time machine to bring back H.O.F. tackle Jonathon Ogden in his prime. Now THAT would be an epic battle. But we digress.
Without outside linebacker Leonard Floyd battling an ankle injury, the Rams may be without his play on defense. Maybe this is the game where Von Miller steps up for the Rams? While Miller has been solid since being acquired from the Denver Broncos several weeks ago, he's only notched one sack so far. Many have expected more production for the acquired All-Pro linebacker.
We believe Huntley will be the Raven's starter at quarterback, and that is not necessarily a more straightforward assignment than Jackson would be. Yes, Jackson is a former M.V.P. who can do crazy things with his legs, maybe the best running quarterback in the N.F.L.
But Huntley—who somehow went undrafted out of Utah—is nearly as athletic as Jackson and maybe a better pure passer. The other problem in facing a guy who hasn't played that much is the lack of film that you can use to study him. Huntley would probably start for many N.F.L. teams, and containing him is no easy assignment.
Ravens tight end Mark Andrews is having a monstrous season. We consider Rams safety Taylor Rapp will draw most of the coverage on Andrews. If the Ravens are to win this game, Andrews probably needs to win this matchup in a big way.
Raven's wideout Marquisse'" Hollywood' Brown is listed as questionable with an illness. Given the "must-win" nature of this game for the Ravens, we think he will play unless he is almost on his deathbed. Whether he is 100 percent, of course, is another issue. A healthy Brown versus Rams corner Jalen Ramsey would be a great matchup.
Devonta Freeman has been pressed into service as the Raven's latest running back after a long list of injuries has sidelines several other backs. Freeman is still a credible N.F.L. running back, although the Ram's more significant concern may be containing Huntley as a runner. He's not quite Lamar Jackson as a runner, but he's close.
We think the Ravens will have to score at least 30 points to win this game, given the state of their secondary and defense in general. They are capable of that, but we wouldn't bet the farm on it occurring.
If the Baltimore offense was healthy, this might be a different situation, But as it is, we will check this box for the Rams.
Rams Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Joe Burrow and the Bengals lit up Baltimore for 525 yards passing last week. That's the third most in N.F.L. history, and the Bengals secondary is the same lineup as last week.
The situation seems tailor-made for Rams wideout Cooper Kupp to have a huge day. Kupp needs 231 yards this week and next to break Calvin Johnson's all-time receiving yards in a season record. It's probably not realistic to think he will get it all on Sunday, but 125-150 yards or so and a couple of touchdowns are probably not crazy goals for him for this game.
Kupp on offense is much like Aaron Donald on defense—opponents know they need to stop him, double cover him, and somehow, he always does some severe damage. Suppose the Ravens had Peters and Humphrey's health; they would have a fighting chance. Matt Stafford is the better pressure quarterback because we don't think the guys they have in the secondary can cover Cooper Kupp.
Fellow Rams wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is starting to look like the guy he was with the Giants rather than the mediocre talent he mostly was as a Cleveland Brown. Last week, his final stat line against the Vikings was nothing special—four catches, 37 yards, and a touchdown. But if you watched the game, you know that he should have had much better stats.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, clearly not at his best in that game with accuracy, missed OBJ on at least two plays where Beckham was wide open for significant gains. OBJ, in general, has looked good with the Rams thus far, having caught four touchdown passes and generally not looking like the washed-up diva that many thought him to be with the Browns. He's still a very dangerous receiver, and if Baltimore does out-sell to stop Kupp, OBJ can undoubtedly make them pay.
It looks like the Ravens will have Justin Houston back at edge rusher. Houston no longer is the pass-rushing terror he was in his prime with Kansas City Chiefs, where he once notched 14 sacks. But he's still a wily veteran, and you never know when guys like him are going to discover the fountain of youth, even if it's only for one day. Given the importance of this game to the Ravens, Houston will likely try everything he knows to make life uncomfortable for Matthew Stafford.
The Rams have been running the ball often and effectively with Sony Michel over the last few weeks. Michel leads the N.F.L. in rushing yards in the month of December. Baltimore is first in the N.F.L. in rushing defense at 85 yards per game. It will be interesting to see if Rams coach Sean McVay continues his recent trend of calling a balanced offensive game plan or goes bombs away to take advantage of the Raven's problems on pass defense.
The Rams have been better when mixing in the run, but who knows, given the Raven's lopsided imbalance between their rush and pass defenses?
Special Teams: The Ram's special teams HAVE been better as of late. Brandon Powell returned a punt for a touchdown last week, and Matt Gay is the N.F.C. Pro Bowl Kicker for a reason. In recent weeks, Johnny Hekker has been looking more like his old self.
That's good news for the Rams, but we still think Baltimore has the overall edge here.
Coaching: This is an exciting matchup between two of the league's better head coaches in Sean McVay and John Harbaugh. We generally give McVay the edge anytime he isn't facing Bill Belichick. But we think Baltimore has the advantage in defensive coordinators. The Rams Raheem Morris has his defense playing better late in the season than what was the case earlier. But it's hard to go against Ravens D-coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale, whom we consider among the best at his job in the league.
Call it a tossup.
Final Prediction: The Ravens may be more motivated to win this game with their season at stake. They are also at home, forced to travel across the country and play an early game in the Eastern Time Zone is what the Rams face. In his career, Sean McVay is 8-2 in such games, though, so maybe that isn't a huge factor.
The Ravens also are coming off an embarrassing loss last week against the Bengals. You generally don't want to bet against a good team after a bad game.
The Ravens, despite a somewhat mediocre 8-7 mark, are a good team.
With their backs against the wall, they are a dangerous opponent.
But they are also an injury-riddled team, and they are vulnerable to Ram's high-powered passing attack. Matthew Stafford probably needs to be better than last week against the Vikings. If he is really on his game, Ram's offense could explode.
Rams 31, Ravens 28