Vikings (5-10) At Ravens (9-6)

January 07, 2002|By Jamison Hensley

Ravens rushing vs. Vikings run defense -- RAVENS -- The Ravens can take pressure off quarterback Elvis Grbac by exploiting Minnesota's biggest weakness - run defense. The Vikings have been the NFL's fifth-worst team in stopping the run. Terry Allen continues to run as hard as he has all season, gaining 165 yards over his past two games. Jason Brookins, the team's leading rusher, will play for the first time since breaking a bone in his right foot six weeks ago.

Ravens passing vs. Vikings pass defense -- RAVENS -- To beat the Ravens, teams have put pressure on Grbac and forced him into throwing interceptions. The Vikings, though, will be hard-pressed to do that since they have only eight interceptions and 28 sacks, both of which rank near the bottom of the league. Minnesota lacks playmakers in the secondary and has not picked off a pass in four games (a span of 117 throws). The Ravens are 7-1 when Grbac throws fewer than two interceptions. Their offensive line has to rebound from one of its poorest efforts of the season in Tampa Bay.

Vikings rushing vs. Ravens run defense -- RAVENS -- The Ravens' run defense hasn't been as dominant as in recent seasons, but the team is still ranked fourth against the run. Meanwhile, Minnesota has yet to establish a ground game since star running back Robert Smith retired in the off-season. Minnesota rookie Michael Bennett, who will be limited with a bruised heel, is a fast north-south back but could have his problems running inside against Ravens defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.

Vikings passing vs. Ravens pass defense -- EVEN -- Minnesota receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter could have had field days against an inconsistent Ravens secondary, but the Vikings will be limited with third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn. The second-year reserve is still very raw and has been telegraphing passes. In his past two games, Wynn has completed 50 percent of his passes, throwing just one touchdown while getting picked off four times. Still, Moss and Carter are a strong test for Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks, who played their best during last season's playoff run.

Special teams -- RAVENS -- Four of Raven Jermaine Lewis' six touchdowns off punt returns have come in the final months of seasons. The Vikings have the 24th-ranked punt coverage team, allowing 11.1 yards per punt. Minnesota's returner Nate Jacquet has been benched in favor of Harold Morrow on kickoffs and Troy Walters on punts. The Ravens' punt team faltered mightily in Tampa Bay because of a knee injury to long snapper Joe Maese, who has been replaced by veteran Dale Hellestrae.

Intangibles -- RAVENS -- The Ravens need a win to make the playoffs. Enough said. In addition, the Vikings received a surprising blow three days before tonight's game, when coach Dennis Green stepped down after reaching a settlement with owner Red McCombs. The Vikings are 0-7 on the road this season, losing by an average of 13.8 points.

Prediction -- RAVENS -- The defending Super Bowl champions end their regular season with a bang over a Vikings team with little pop. The playoffs await as the Ravens win easily, 26-10.

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