There are five undefeated teams left in the NFL and Baltimore is one of them.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Ravens have relied on dominant defensive and special teams play to seal the deal in tightly contested games this season.
This Sunday should be no exception. The Oakland Raiders are easily the best team Baltimore will have to face during the first quarter of the season as the first three teams the Ravens have defeated hold a combined 1-8 record. The Raiders, however, are 2-1.
Oakland has been hard to figure out through the first three weeks.
In Week 1, the Raiders’ defense got dismantled by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, but a bold two-point conversion call by Jack Del Rio at the end of the game lifted Oakland over New Orleans.
Then, the Raiders got into another shootout with the Atlanta Falcons. They would be on the short-end this time, losing 35-28.
In Week 3, the Raiders escaped a low scoring battle with the Tennessee Titans, 17-10, who have been dreadful to watch lately.
No matter how good or bad Oakland may be this season, one cannot deny the Ravens have a tendency to play to their opponents’ level. If the Baltimore wants to remain undefeated after Week 4, they need to break that trend this week.
Derek Carr has proven to be a star and Amari Cooper is the perfect complement to his quarterback’s playmaking ability. Despite failing to score a touchdown in his first three games of action, Cooper is giving defensive coordinators headaches.
His best game this season was against the Saints when he blew the top off their defense to catch six passes for 137 yards. The Ravens can’t let that happen, as their defense has contributed heavily in all three of their victories this season.
Michael Crabtree has also made a name for himself this season in the Raiders receiving corps. If the Ravens focus their attention solely on Cooper, things could get ugly in Baltimore.
Even if the Ravens can shut down Oakland’s attack through the air, which is a tall task with Carr under center, they are still going to need to have answers for running back Latavius Murray, who has put the rock in the end zone in each of his three games this season.
Flacco, on the other hand, needs to stop turning the ball over. Throwing four interceptions against teams with a combined 0-6 record isn’t a good look, and Baltimore may not be able to overcome those mistakes against a much more formidable opponent.
Flacco also has the Ravens’ only rushing touchdown this season. Justin Forsett and Terrance West both need to step up their game this week so Flacco doesn’t have to do all the work to get the offense moving forward.
If Baltimore’s run game remains ineffective, short passes and screens will have to do the job. For the Ravens, this means no dropped balls or getting hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Khalil Mack has yet to record a sack this season, so, Marshal Yanda and the rest of the Ravens’ offensive line better extend the streak another game or Flacco is going to be under fire all day.
In the end, this game is going to be interesting. Oakland’s defense isn’t up to par, but neither is Baltimore’s offense.
The Raiders offense, meanwhile, is excelling and the Ravens defense has almost as many interceptions in their first three games (five) as they had in the entire 2015 season (six).
Something has to give in. Being at home this week could be what helps the Ravens conquer their toughest task yet in 2016.
Prediction: Ravens over Raiders 24-20