At DOLPHINS (11-5)

RAVENS (10-6)

4 p.m. today, Pro Player Stadium, Miami, chs. 13, 9

January 13, 2002


Ravens rushing vs. Dolphins run defense - EVEN

The X-factor is the health of Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who is battling neck and shoulder injuries. The Dolphins are looking to stuff the run to force Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac to make plays. The Ravens are planning to use running backs Terry Allen and Jason Brookins equally but may feature one if either gets hot. Running between the tackles has been the way to beat Miami this season. An inconsistent offensive line likely will dictate the Ravens' success on the ground.

Key matchup: Ravens center Mike Flynn vs. Dolphins' Thomas. Miami's run defense is predicated on Thomas making a lot of plays. Only Jets center Kevin Mawae has been able to control him this season.

Stat to remember: 4.4. Yards per carry by the Ravens over the past five games.

Ravens passing vs. Dolphins pass defense - DOLPHINS

If Grbac has to make plays against the league's top-ranked pass defense, he will have to look to tight end Shannon Sharpe. Ravens receivers Qadry Ismail and Travis Taylor do not intimidate Miami cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, who have played their best games the past two weeks. Another option could be slot receiver Brandon Stokley, who could get open against nickel back Terry Cousin. As usual, pass protection is vital for the Ravens. Don't be surprised if Miami end Jason Taylor flips to the other side for a more favorable matchup against Ravens right tackle Kipp Vickers.

Key matchup: Ravens' Sharpe vs. Dolphins outside linebacker Morlon Greenwood. One of the game's best pass-catching tight ends will go against a rookie who has a tendency to get lost in pass coverage.

Stat to remember: .888. Ravens' winning percentage when Grbac throws fewer than two interceptions.

Dolphins rushing vs. Ravens run defense - RAVENS Although the Ravens have been sloppy in shutting down the run recently, their intensity should return against a lethargic Miami running game. Over their past three games, the Ravens are giving up an average of 129 yards. With Ravens end Michael McCrary out for the season and their other end, Rob Burnett, nursing injuries, running backs have had success attacking the edges. The Dolphins want to control the clock and run the ball, but they have an inconsistent ground game. Running back Lamar Smith broke out for 158 yards rushing last week after gaining a total of 59 yards the previous three games.

Key matchup: Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis vs. Dolphins' Smith. Lewis averaged 11 tackles during last year's playoff run.

Stat to remember: 34. Number of times Miami ran the ball in last season's regular-season victory over the Ravens.

Dolphins passing vs. Ravens pass defense - EVEN

Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler can relate to Grbac's problems, having thrown 19 interceptions this season. Miami is 5-1 in games that he did not get picked off. Injuries could be a factor with speedy rookie Chris Chambers (ankle) and Oronde Gadsden (hamstring) both questionable but likely to play. If those receivers were healthy, the Ravens' secondary could have had problems. Big plays have been a season-long concern for the Ravens. No team has had the talent to test the Ravens deep since Pittsburgh four weeks ago.

Key matchup: Ravens end Peter Boulware vs. Dolphins left tackle Spencer Folau. Boulware leads the Ravens in sacks this season, while former teammate Folau led the Ravens in games not played last season. Speed rushers have bothered Folau.

Stat to remember: 4. Number of times Fiedler has thrown an interception on the first play of a game.

Special teams - EVEN

In what could be a defensive battle, there will be an emphasis on the kicking game. The Ravens' Matt Stover is the fourth-most accurate field-goal kicker of all-time, while the Dolphins' Olindo Mare ranks second. One concern for the Ravens is long snapper Dale Hellestrae, a 17-year veteran who blew at least three snaps against Minnesota on Monday night. Miami punt returner Jeff Ogden is fourth in the AFC, averaging 11.8 yards per return.

Key matchup: Ravens return specialist Jermaine Lewis vs. Dolphins' punt team. It's the league's most dangerous returner against the NFL's top punt-coverage team.

Stat to remember: 7. Number of punts the Ravens' Kyle Richardson has had blocked in his five-year career.

Intangibles - RAVENS

The Ravens are the Super Bowl defending champions and won't be intimidated by playing on the road, having recorded upsets at Tennessee and Oakland in last season's playoffs. The Dolphins have won their first-round playoff game for the past three years. Miami is 7-1 at home this season but didn't come close to selling out Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins have lost their past four games against teams in this year's playoff field.

Prediction - RAVENS

Expect a suffocating effort from the Ravens' defense and a big play from Sharpe. Sound familiar? But this rerun comes with some added fourth-quarter drama. Ravens, 13-10.

-- Jamison Hensley

Keys to the game

For the Ravens

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