The Ravens made it clear this week how badly they need to win Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
"I can't think of a situation this year that could be more important than this game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Beating the Jets could put the Ravens' at the top of the race for the No. 2 wild-card spot, and also keep them * *in the hunt for the AFC North. But their chances of returning to the playoffs for the sixth-straight season would take a big hit if they do not come away with a victory.
Sunday's matchup begins a critical three-game stand at M&T Bank Stadium and is a chance for the Ravens to stay in control of their playoff destiny down the final stretch of the regular season.
Matchups To Watch
RG Marshal Yanda vs. DT Sheldon RichardsonThe Jets have the NFL's best run defense this season, and the rookie defensive lineman is a big reason for their success. Richardson has been a force at the line of scrimmage, and he will go up against one of the NFL's best offensive linemen in Yanda. Neutralizing Richardson in the running game and as a pass rusher will be critical for the Ravens offense.
QB Joe Flacco vs. S Ed ReedThe "ball hawk" is back in Baltimore for the second time this season. He had little impact in the Week 3 matchup as a member of the Houston Texans, but now Reed is in a Rex Ryan defense that is similar to the one he played in during his time with the Ravens. Reed told reporters that he hopes Flacco throws his way this week, and stressed that he is still an effective player at this late stage of his career.
WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Antonio CromartieSmith has been quiet in recent weeks and has not topped 100 receiving yards since the Week 5 matchup with the Dolphins. He has a challenge going up against Cromartie, who is known as a physical corner that can jam receivers at the line and push them off their routes. Cromartie and the Jets have been prone to give up big plays through the air this season, and Smith hopes to find holes in their secondary this week.
Keys To The Game
Force Smith To Make MistakesJets quarterback Geno Smith has been up and down in his rookie season, and lately he's shown a tendency to turn over the football. Smith had four turnovers last week, and the Ravens hope to force those kinds of mistakes from the second-round draft pick. Turnovers have been an emphasis for the defense in recent weeks, and forcing Smith into bad decisions will create opportunities for the secondary to get their hands on the football.
Offense Put Together Complete GameFor much of the season, the knock against the Ravens offense was its inability to start fast. That's changed recently, as last week in Chicago the Ravens jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The offense faded in the second half against the Bears, and a focus has been for the unit to put together a complete game rather than two inconsistent halves.
Use Home-Field Advantage
Winning on the road has been a struggle for the Ravens this season, but they are still 3-1 at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens hold a 36-8 record at home during Harbaugh's tenure, which is the second best mark in the NFL. Using the energy from the home crowd will be important for the Ravens, especially against a Jets team that has struggled to win on the road. New York is just 1-4 on the road and has been outscored 165-76 in those five games.