por Will Strome | 11-24-2018 20:00
The Turkey Bowl.
It’s as American as a Western flick and equally as synonymous with Thanksgiving as the roasted turkey itself. This year as thousands of Turkey Bowls kickoff nationwide first thing in the morning on a frigid Thanksgiving Day, snow has blanketed the backyard football fields for most of the East Coast and Midwest. Making holiday travel a nightmare but playing conditions absolutely perfect. However, that glistening snow will be long gone and converted into freezing rain and slush just in time for the weekend NFL action in the greater Chesapeake area when the Baltimore Ravens host the Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon.
Despite this being Thanksgiving weekend, it’s safe to assume that neither the Raiders nor the Ravens have much to be thankful for this NFL season. While Oakland took a heavy loss before the season even started by trading away Khalil Mack, Baltimore has been on a slow and steady decline over the last few weeks. With the forecast calling for a wintery mix, Mother Nature could make these two struggling sides look and play even worse than they already are.
According to NFLWeather.com, a drizzle is expected for the 1pm kickoff with overcast skies hovering above through the rest of the afternoon. Baltimore is anticipating rain both Friday and Saturday so the Sunday grass surface inside M&T Bank Stadium is likely going to be a massive mud bowl by the second half. Temperatures should be in the low-50’s so unless a cold front storms through, snow isn’t very likely. The wind shouldn’t be too much of a bother, topping out around 6-8 mph, but a damp and dreary afternoon is virtually a guarantee.
It didn’t seem like all that long ago that the Baltimore Ravens (5-5) were perched atop the AFC North and fresh off a pummeling of the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Oh, how things have changed… both for Baltimore and veteran Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco.
Despite the recent free fall, Baltimore has endured, the team does have a stat that should get fans excited heading into the Week 12 match; the Ravens recent success in the rain. According to the NFLWeather.com Historical Analytics, since 2009 the Ravens are an astonishing 11-1 in rain games and unbeaten in their last four outings. Over those four rainy wins, the B-More offense averaged 28.5 points per game while defensively surrendering only 15 per game.
Even though it’s been the stout Baltimore D that’s carried the team this season, the Ravens will look to an unlikely hero on the other side of the ball to elevate their recent run of poor performances. Rookie QB Lamar Jackson will make his second career start but his first with poor playing conditions likely to be an issue. Jackson lead the Ravens to a crucial win over Cincinnati, 24-21 and racked up 117 rushing yards on 27 carries (the most by a QB in the Super Bowl era) on the ground while completing 13-of-19 passes as well. The versatile and shifty former Louisville gunslinger will have all eyes on him Sunday and if Baltimore sticks with the same game plan regarding a handful of designed QB rushes in the rain, Jackson could turn heads for a second straight week and keep the Ravens in wildcard contention.
Even though a lot will be expected from Jackson against a horrific Oakland defense, he won’t be the only rushing threat in the Baltimore backfield Sunday. Running back Alex Collins returned to practice Friday but despite not producing a 100-yard rushing game this season, a matchup against the league’s second-worst defensive unit against the run could finally see triple digits in Collins’ box score. One concern for Collins owners, aside from Baltimore limiting his touches following his injury, has been the emergence of undrafted rookie Gus Edwards who piled on 115 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bengals. There’s a chance the Ravens could ride the hot hand despite Collins being the lead back all season.
As for the passing attack, not having Flacco under center and seeing rain in the forecast will definitely diminish the likelihood of Jackson having a massive day through the air. That does not bode well for Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV fantasy owners; not that either of the three has consistently provided fantasy-worthy performances in 2018. The best way to avoid figuring out the Baltimore passing game from a fantasy perspective is to avoid it completely.
Even though Baltimore is still very much in the playoff mix, it really doesn’t feel that way. But a convincing win over a struggling Jon Gruden’s Raiders side could eliminate any lingering concern from the Ravens faithful.
As for Oakland little, if nothing at all, has gone well for the Raiders (2-8) this season. Once Mack was shipped to Chicago, the avalanche began. And statistically, much like the upcoming weekend weather, nothing looks bright in the Raiders immediate future. Since 2009, Oakland is 3-7 in the rain and 0-4 on the road during that dismal and damp stretch.
Quarterback Derek Carr has looked like a shadow of himself this season and desperately needs a solid performance to show Coach Gruden he’s still the franchise QB when the team moves to Las Vegas. Against the league’s top D Sunday, Carr could be in for a long afternoon and now that Amari Cooper has been traded to Dallas, the former Fresno State quarterback doesn’t have many weapons to work with.
Veteran wideout Jordy Nelson hasn’t been the deep threat the Raiders desperately needed this season and even though Nelson returned to practice midweek, the former Green Bay WR has consistently underperformance and little is expected to change in the rain this week. Carr’s top target has actually been tight end Jared Cook who’s been targeted 15 times over the last two weeks. With Cook being a solid security blanket for Carr and crummy conditions in the forecast, Cook could see a ton of dump passes and gobble up most of the redone targets.
As for the Oakland backfield, once Marshawn Lynch was sidelined for the season the starting duties were handed to veteran Doug Martin and the Muscle Hamster has seized the moment. Jalen Richard still controls third downs and passes out of the backfield, but since taking over as the lead back Martin has racked up double digit carries in four straight games. If Martin can find the endzone, listed at only $3,900, it’s rare to see a starting RB at such a low daily fantasy price which will allow owners the opportunity to spend up on other positions this week.
While the Raiders are just about ready to pack it in for the 2018 campaign, Sunday’s matchup is an absolute must-win for the Ravens who are very much still in the playoff picture. A Baltimore win and the pressure will subside for now, but a loss and we could see a massive changing of the guard across the harbor from Fort McHenry. I’m not talking about Flacco officially handing over the offensive reigns to Jackson, I’m talking about the end of the John Harbaugh era on a rainy Sunday on the banks of the Chesapeake. Even during the holiday season, sometimes when it rains, it pours.
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