SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Miami leads the series, 6-5. Miami won the last meeting, 15-13, last season when DE Derrick Shelby returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. This is the fourth consecutive season these teams have met, with all the games being in Miami, and the Ravens lead, 2-1. This is the third consecutive season they have met in December -- they've split the previous two.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Miami must be physical, above all, against Baltimore. The actual formula for winning has varied lately during the Dolphins' six-game winning streak -- sometimes it's been the running game, sometimes special teams, sometimes defense, sometimes the passing game.
But the Ravens are always a physical team with an aggressive pass rush. Baltimore has sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill 13 times in three games, including six times in 2013 and six times in 2014.
The Dolphins have been physical during their winning streak, led by the running game, so that shouldn't be a problem. After that, the Dolphins must run the ball effectively, stay ahead in the turnover margin, make timely plays in the passing game and stay effective in third-down defense.
The Dolphins have one of the league's top running attacks, but the Ravens provide a huge challenge. Few teams have been able to run against Baltimore and Miami hopes to fare better with a potentially healthier offensive line. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns last week against San Francisco, so Baltimore will be prepared for him to take some shots downfield. The Ravens have an advantage with both of their top pass rushers, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, back in the lineup.
Baltimore's offense continues to sputter, and the team has mainly relied on kicker Justin Tucker to provide points. The defense has been stellar, so Baltimore might try to play conservatively against Miami to avoid costly mistakes. This means more opportunities for running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. Quarterback Joe Flacco could primarily use checkdowns to pick up yards, especially against a Miami secondary that has played well. Baltimore has not showed enough explosiveness to put teams away.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Miami DT Ndamukong Suh vs. Baltimore RG Marshal Yanda. These two All-Pros matched up last year and Suh seemed to get the victory. It'll be an interesting battle once again because Suh is so disruptive. If Yanda can limit Suh's effectiveness, Baltimore could have a great day up front. Miami is heavily reliant on Suh.
--Miami RB Jay Ajayi vs. Baltimore's run defense. If Ajayi (847 yards, 5.3 per carry) gets going, it could be a long day for the Ravens. But Baltimore is No. 1 in the league in run defense at 74.9 yards per game. This will be a huge matchup, although Miami has shown it can win with Ajayi having a small role; he has rushed for 201 yards in the last three games. Still, this is Miami's easiest path to victory; and, if the Ravens can limit the running game while playing a seven-man front, it'll be tougher for Miami to get its passing game going.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT:
--Out: C Mike Pouncey (hip)
--Doubtful: CB Xavien Howard (knee)
--Questionable: T Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring), T Jermon Bushrod (calf), RB Kenyan Drake (knee), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee, hand), DT Earl Mitchell (back), WR DeVante Parker (back), T Laremy Tunsil (shoulder)
--Out: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), T Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
--Doubtful: RB Javorius Allen (non football injury)
Dolphins MLB Kiko Alonso. Alonso has become a top playmaker, perhaps alongside DT Ndamukong Suh and DE Cam Wake. Alonso has been making plays all over the field, with 91 tackles, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. He was in on the game-saving tackle last week against San Francisco and has been constantly around the ball all season. Alonso hasn't specialized in making tackles behind the line of scrimmage, but he has been arguably their top defensive player.
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill has nine passing TDs and just one interception in the past six games. He threw for 285 yards and three TDs last week.
Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi has 730 rushing yards (121.7 per game) and five TDs in his past six games. He is second among NFL rushers at 5.26 yards per carry.
Miami DE Cameron Wake has 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the past six games.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco is 4-0 vs. Miami, with 1,036 passing yards, five TDs and two interceptions.
Baltimore rookie RB Kenneth Dixon has 200 scrimmage yards in the past three games.
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs had two sacks and two forced fumbles last week and has three sacks and three forced fumbles in the past three games. In his past six games vs. Miami, he has 8.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and an interception for a touchdown.
The Ravens' only loss in November was at Dallas, and they figure to put the clamps on the Dolphins, who have squeaked out six straight wins.
OUR PICK: Ravens, 23-17.