The Ravens are building up a little momentum.
After wins over the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers the last two weeks, the Ravens (6-6) have a .500 record for the first time since October and control their destiny in the playoff race.
Beating the Vikings (3-8-1) would give the Ravens their first three-game winning streak of the season and also set up a critical three-game stretch against the Lions, Patriots and Bengals to finish the regular season.
The Ravens are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC, but they have little room for error. Losing just one game could put them on the outside looking in of on the playoff picture.
"We're a 6-6 football team fighting for a playoff spot, and we need to win the rest of them, and it starts with this one right here," quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Matchups To Watch
LT Eugene Monroe vs. DE Jared Allen
Allen has been one of the NFL's premier pass rushers throughout his career, putting up at least nine sacks in eight of the last nine seasons, and double digit sack totals for the last six seasons. Monroe will likely get tasked with keeping Allen way from Flacco, which is no easy task. Monroe has been on a roll lately, and has been the Ravens' top offensive player the last two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
CB Jimmy Smith vs. WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Smith has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against the Steelers on Thanksgiving, and he will likely match up against the big rookie wide receiver. Patterson is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and creates matchup nightmares for smaller defensive backs. Smith has the size to take away that advantage for Patterson, and he has also played lockdown defense in recent weeks.
S Matt Elam vs. QB Matt Cassel
The Ravens picked off Cassel twice when they faced him last season in Kansas City, and they hope to get the better of him again this week. Cassel is slated to start because Christian Ponder suffered a concussion last week, and Elam has his eyes set on his first career interception.
Keys To The Game
Stop the running game
The Vikings offense is built around the NFL's leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who has put up historic numbers over the course of his seven-year career. Peterson is coming off a 211-yard game last week against the Bears, but he is also battling a thigh injury that has limited his practice time this week. Stopping him is the top priority for the Ravens, and they will likely stack the box to force Minnesota to beat them through the air.
Find the end zone
The offense has made strides in recent weeks, scoring on six of their nine possessions last week against the Steelers. The problem, however, is that the Ravens have struggled in the red zone and had to settle for field goals. Kicker Justin Tucker has nine field goals in the last two weeks, and a focus for the offense is to put the ball in the end zone rather than settling for three points. Getting tight end Dennis Pitta back in the lineup could help in that department.
Capitalize on home field
The Ravens have been a different team at home this season, and currently have a 5-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium. Sunday's contest with Minnesota marks the end of a three-game home stretch, and they need to capitalize on one of their final two games in Baltimore this season.