Ravens run offense vs. Saints run defense
The running game is where the Ravens have flourished recently and the Saints have been shown to be susceptible. Ravens running back Jamal Lewis has gained 186 yards over the past five quarters, accounting for 57 per-cent of the team's total offense. The chilly weather plays right into the hands of the Ravens' big-back attack. Ranked 16th in run defense, the Saints are coming off their best run-stopping effort in limiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 34 yards on 16 carries. In the four weeks before that, the New Orleans defense had allowed the opposition's startlng running backs to average 106.5 yards. The Saints' front is bulky but the team's linebacking corps is inconsistent.
Key stat: 6.6. Average yards per carry by Lewis over the past five quarters.
Ravens pass offense vs. Saints pass defense
The Saints have the 24th-ranked pass defense, but that statistic has no bearing on the pass-challenged Ravens. Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake, who started for New Orleans in 2000, has one of the NFL's lowest quarterback ratings at 70.4 and doesn't have much of a supporting cast. No one other than receiver Travis Taylor started significantly before this season. The Saints will bring pressure - no team has posted more sacks over the past two seasons than New Orleans - which could force Blake into making critical turnovers. Dale Carter, the Saints' shutdown cornerback, is questionable with a shoulder injury for New Orleans' athletic secondary, which has held three of its past five opponents under 200 yards passing.
Key stat: 133.5. Average yards passing by Blake in his past four starts.
Saints run offense vs. Ravens run defense
The Saints are extremely physical and have worn down teams up front. Left tackle Kyle Turley, left guard Kendyl Jacox and center Jerry Fontenot are a bunch of maulers. That style can be troublesome for the Ravens' overachieving yet undersized defensive line. New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister is questionable with an ankle injury but is expected to play. He leads the NFC with 1,049 rushing yards. The Ravens have been sound against the run, not allowing a team to average more than 4 yards per carry in four of the past six weeks.
Key stat: 86.5. Average yards gained by McAllister in four outdoor games this season.
Saints pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense
New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks, who has a bruised muscle and tendon in his throwing arm, is likely to start, but the injury could hinder his throwing motion. He is known for making big plays, throwing for 23 touchdowns along with 38 passes covering 20 yards or more. The Ravens, who have the third-fewest sacks in the league (22), have to get pressure on Brooks. The Saints' Joe Horn, the NFC's fourth-leading receiver, is averaging 16 yards per catch and could play havoc with a young Ravens secondary. The Ravens, however, are dangerous and top the AFC with 20 interceptions.
Key stat: Four. Number of 100-yard receiving games by Horn in the past six weeks.
The Ravens have returned a blocked punt for a touchdown the past two weeks. All of the Saints' coverage teams and return teams rank in the league's top 10. Field position could prove pivotal with two of the game's fastest returners in the Ravens' Lamont Brightful and the Saints' Michael Lewis. The kicking game is a push, with two consistent veterans in the Ravens' Matt Stover and New Orleans' John Carney.
Losing this game likely would end the Ravens' playoff chances. The Saints have had a habit of not showing up in lesser games, losing on the road to the Detroit Lions and at home to the Cleveland Browns. Although they are 4-0 in outdoor games this season, the Saints haven't played a cold-weather game since losing, 34-17, at New England last November.
The Saints will be playing with an injured Brooks and McAllister, but the Ravens don't have the firepower to match up offensively. The playoff talk will fade as the Ravens fall, 27-17.