A Monday Night Game With Meaning

Baltimore rookie Matt Elam said Calvin Johnson was "old." Something tells me Megatron will prove otherwise tonight.

So often we are reduced to watching games on Monday night late in the season that have very little in the way of meaning. Much of this has been reduced due to late season flexing by the NFL and their television networks. Still, the league and the networks don’t always get it right. Tonight in Detroit, they are most certainly getting it right.

Granted tonight’s game was a regularly scheduled contest from last spring, but regardless, the viewers are in for a game with meaning.

Baltimore (-7) at Detroit – I had this game picked as one of the big four NFL games of the week in my prior articles but featuring it here seems only appropriate considering what is on the line. If you have followed along this week, you’ll notice the line has moved from as little as +4.5 all the way to the current +7. Clearly bettors are noticing the Ravens’ poor road record and the fact that crowd in Detroit will be raucous considering the few Monday nighters they get in the Motor City.

Baltimore currently holds the first wild-card spot in the AFC Playoffs with a 7-6 record but must win to stay ahead of Miami who moved to 8-6 yesterday with a huge win over Miami. The Ravens hold the tie-breaker as they won the head-to-head match-up earlier in the season.

The Lions are in an even more desperate situation with Chicago winning at Cleveland yesterday to move to 8-6. Granted the Lions need only a tie atop the division with the Bears at season’s end because they hold the tie-breaker but winning the division is the only way they make the playoffs. The NFC wild-cards are likely to be San Francisco and possibly Arizona or Carolina.

Joe Flacco will need time to throw tonight and if he gets it, the Lions could be in trouble.

This game will no doubt be won in the trenches as most games are, but in reality, it’s the quarterbacks who settle this one through the air. Detroit has one of the top defenses in the league against the run (6th overall) and Baltimore has one of the worst rushing attacks (29th overall) to counter the Lions. That means Joe Flacco will have to take to the air.

The question then becomes can the Detroit front-seven get to Flacco? If they can, it will be a long night for the Super Bowl MVP. If they can’t, Flacco should be able to pick apart a weak Lions’ secondary.

The Lions will face the seventh-best rushing defense in Baltimore. Detroit can run the ball effectively at times but that’s when they are healthy. Reggie Bush is questionable with a calf injury and will be limited even if he does play. Fellow running back Joique Bell is a hard runner with good burst and if he can do just enough to take pressure off of Matthew Stafford that will help significantly.

The Ravens are 2-4 against the spread in their last six road games while Detroit is 4-2 straight up in their last six games at home. Because the Lions have dropped a few games at home this season, they are not infallible even though the Ravens have just one victory on the road this season. The over/under in this game is 50 which is just a couple points higher than the teams’ combined averages.

I like the over anyway because indoors on the turf will make a difference and I suspect both offenses will feel the urgency of the game, especially Detroit.

I’ve been on Detroit all week but with that line moving to +7 now I just feel like that’s too much so go with Baltimore and their big game experience.