The Pro Football Notebook

November 11, 2010 7:23 AM

NFL Thursday: Baltimore-Atlanta

RayLewisAndBaltimoreGoToAtlanta.jpgThursday Night Football on the NFL Network comes back tonight, and there's a great game to start it off, as Baltimore goes to Atlanta, a battle of 6-2 teams atop their respective divisions and thinking Super Bowl. The Ravens have already won road games with the Jets and Steelers, and taken the Patriots to overtime in Foxboro, so they can clearly meet a challenge away from home. Their defense remains their calling card and the abilities of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis to be disruptive forces is at the heart of it. But Baltimore has something a lot of teams in a 3-4 scheme don't and that's a down lineman who can also bring it. Haloti Ngata is having a big year at end and is a lot more than just a body to tie up blockers for the linebackers.

Atlanta can answer with a multi-faceted offense. Michael Turner can establish the run, and if quarterback Matt Ryan needs to get rid of the ball quickly, tight end Tony Gonzalez is as good a target as anyway. Ultimately though, the Falcons want to exploit some of the problems Baltimore's had at corner. They've benched Fabian Washington and are expected to give Josh Wilson the start tonight. It looks Atlanta's big-play receiver, Roddy White, is healthy and ready to go. If Ryan has time, he'll be able to find White. The question is whether or not he'll get that time.

Baltimore's offense can also come out from a variety of ways, with Anquan Boldin on the outside, along with Derrick Mason, and then tight end Todd Heap working underneath. The running game is keyed by the physical toughness of Ray Rice and Joe Flacco has been doing a good, mistake-free job of putting it all together. The only problem the Ravens have is that the offense can get a little too underneath--in last week's win over Miami, Rice was the leading receiver and it wasn't with big numbers. To win a game against a good team, on the road and playing on a fast indoor track, Flacco needs to get the ball to Boldin. And just like with Atlanta, the key will be protection. The Falcons can get a pass rush from their front four, led by John Abraham at end and Justin Babineaux in the middle.

All in all, it has all the makings of a good one tonight. Baltimore's handled the road well enough for me to pick them to win a 23-20 barnburner.


There's only one other AFC-NFC game this week and it's at the other end of the spectrum, as Detroit goes to Buffalo. The Lions got word that Matthew Stafford is out for the year and Shaun Hill isn't ready to come back yet. Buffalo's been agonizingly close to that first win for three weeks running and this has to be their time to get it. Really, if the Bills can't win this spot--at home, last-place team playing its third-string quarterback--where do they hope to get that elusive W?

Two of the league's surprise teams play divisional games against last-place rivals. Tampa Bay hosts Carolina, who may be the next team on the verge of a coaching change. I like the way the Bucs looked last week at Atlanta and will pick them to bounce back against an opponent that seems to have thrown in the towel. Kansas City has to pick themselves up after that tough defeat in Oakland and go to Denver. This is a real test spot for the Chiefs. The Broncos haven't played well, but this is still a tough venue to win and Kyle Orton is at least putting up points. A KC loss drops them into a tie for first with Oakland, and San Diego is in the rearview mirror. And I think the Chiefs will drop this one, as they don't slow down Orton and Matt Cassell makes some mistakes on the road trying to keep up.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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