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Thursday Night Football

Baltimore Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons


John J. Raspanti

In a battle that some are calling a prelude to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) take on the Falcons (also 6-2) in Atlanta. Baltimore destroyed the Dolphins last weekend 26-10 by utilizing a smothering defense and opportunistic offense. The Ravens intercepted Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne three times and sacked him twice.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who has completed 60 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, leads the Raven offense. Running back Ray Rice has gained 606 yards on the ground. Rice has also become a good receiver out of the backfield with 31 catches. Flacco's favorite receivers are Willie MaGabee with 57 passes caught, and Anquan Boldin with 40. The young Raven quarterback also has tight end Todd Heap to look for and old pro Derrick Mason.

On the other side of the ball, the indomitable Ray Lewis leads the ninth ranked Raven defense. The thirty five year old Lewis continues to play at a high level. He leads the team in tackles with 68. The Ravens are thrilled to have free safety Ed Reed back from injury. Reed already has three interceptions in his two games played. Baltimore's defense is anchored by massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata who has five sacks this season.

The Falcons have been the cardiac kids the last couple of weeks. They barely got by struggling Cincinnati, and then last weekend needed a goal line stand to hold off Tampa Bay 27-21. Quarterback Matt Ryan continues to play very consistently. Ryan has completed 62 percent of his passes and tossed 13 touchdowns. Potential All Pro receiver Roddy White leads the team with 58 passes caught. White sustained a knee injury last Sunday but should be ready for the Ravens. Bull like running back Michael Turner has barreled through opposing defenses to the tune of 694 yards and scored five times. Tight end Tony Gonzales has caught 37 passes while backup running backup Jason Snelling has 22 catches. 

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Defensively the Falcons have struggled against the pass giving up a little over 250 yards a game. Linebacker Curtis Lofton leads the team with 63 tackles and two sacks. Defensive end John Abraham has six sacks this season but none in the last two weeks. Abraham needs to step it up against the Ravens and pressure Joe Flacco.

These two teams have had very similar results this year. With the exception of passing defense, they are just about even in every category, including offensive and defensive yards per points. The Falcons are +7 in turnover margin and the Ravens are +1.

The NFL needs more games like this. With all of the parity in the league these days, what the NFL lacks from week to week are Marquee matchups. The NFL has become a watered down product, made up of mostly mediocre and bad teams. Here we get a matchup between two teams that look to be going places this year. Two teams playing solid football on both sides of the ball. This is one of the few games so far this year that has the right to be tabbed "must see".

Edges in a game like this are hard to come by. You might point to the Falcons pass defense as an edge the Ravens can exploit. However, keep in mind that while the Falcons have been prone to giving up the big pass play, and have given up some yards through the air, they also are tied for 3rd in the NFL with 13 interceptions. Those interceptions aren't just one or two guys. 10 Falcon defenders in all, contributed to that mark, which also obviously is part of their being +7 in turnover margin. This is an opportunistic defense.

Lastly, teams play all season and jockey for position with two main goals in mind. Making the playoffs and home field advantage. Yeah, it's big. There's a reason why handicappers award the home team 2 to 3 points on average when making their own line on an NFL game and there's a reason why teams want that home field advantage come playoff time. In a game like this, with so few edges to be had either way, the home field crowd along could be the difference, particularly in a game where the defense figures so prominently.

With that in mind, in a game where we just need to pick the straight up winner, we're going to side with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. As far as the total goes, the 44 gives us some wiggle room to go Under the total. So two recommendations here. Falcons -1 and Under 44. Enjoy the game!

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