The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, coming into Baltimore having won six straight games. Without a doubt, they have thrown their name into the ring of playoff contenders, and this week’s match-up has more playoff implications than any other contest happening this weekend. Fins fans have every reason to be confident in their team, but I would like to tackle this from the opposing point of view. Here’s why the Ravens will win when the Miami Dolphins come to town.
This game is going to be a battle in the trenches, as the Fins have been heavily reliant on running back Jay Ajayi to provide an offensive spark. He was able to top the century mark against the New York Jets, a team that prides itself on stopping the run, but my gut says that will not happen against Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed a league-low 74.9 rush yards per game, and they recently held Ezekiel Elliott to 97 yards on 25 carries, well below his average. Overall, Baltimore is second in yards allowed per game, and they are fourth in points allowed with an average of 18.3. On the flip side, Miami does not always light up the scoreboard, averaging 22.6 points scored per game.
Home Field Advantage
It is December, and the Ravens always seem to step up their game later in the season, particularly at home. The Ravens are 4-2 at home this year compared to 2-3 on the road, so being at M&T Bank Stadium clearly gives them a boost. Joe Flacco is finally starting to find his rhythm after last year’s devastating knee injury, and he should perform well with the home crowd behind him. The same is true for Baltimore’s defense, as they love to show off for their fans. In addition, crowd noise will likely have a major impact on Miami’s offensive line, who will have to strain to hear cadences from Ryan Tannehill. Fins fans have traveled well lately, but Ravens fans pride themselves on avoiding hostile takeovers.
Two-Headed Rushing Attack
Cold weather always brings more running, and the Ravens are well accustomed to ground and pound football. The recent emergence of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon combined with the tenacity of Terrance West gives Baltimore a strong duo of rushers who will be relied on more heavily at this point in the season. Throw in the best fullback in football, Kyle Juszczyk, and the Ravens have every reason to be confident in their ground game. Under recently appointed offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Baltimore has rededicated itself to the rushing attack, so do not expect them to be detered if Miami contains them early.
Baltimore is hopeful that their top cornerback Jimmy Smith can return this week after missing two games with a back injury. They have also found stability on their offensive line of late, with Marshal Yanda moving to left guard and Vlad Ducasse taking over at right guard. Miami, on the other hand, is uncertain how their offensive line will look come Sunday. They could also be without one of their top receivers, DeVante Parker. Parker has not practiced this week with a back injury, and his status is doubtful. The same is true for center Mike Pouncey, who is dealing with a hip injury. Tackles Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil are both questionable after being limited in practice. Given Baltimore’s ability to snuff out the run, this game will be on the shoulders of Ryan Tannehill; a leaky offensive line and lack of receiving weapons could spell disaster.
Who Wants/Needs It More
Make no mistake, both of these teams need to win. The Ravens currently sit atop the AFC North, and they control their road to the playoffs if they keep winning. For the Dolphins to make the playoffs, they will likely need a wildcard since the Patriots have a stranglehold on the AFC East. So which team truly needs the win more? I would say the Ravens. After this week, the Ravens travel to New England, host Philadelphia, then finish out the year with road trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Miami has a tough schedule, too, with games against all three divisional foes and a home contest against the Cardinals; however, the Fins will be at home for half of those games whereas the Ravens have just one home game left after this match-up.
One thing is for sure, this game is going to be one of the most entertaining ones of the weekend. Lucky for me, I will be sitting right next to my lovely wife in the stands. Unfortunately for her, she is a Dolphins fan.