BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-2) AT OAKLAND RAIDERS (2-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 6-3. The Raiders lost seven of their first eight games vs. the Ravens (including postseason), but have won each of their last two (by a combined five points). Last season in Baltimore, Derek Carr threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree as the Raiders prevailed 28-27. When the teams met at the Coliseum in 2015, Carr completed 30 of 45 passes and threw the winning touchdown pass to Seth Roberts in a 37-33 win.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens have been forced to play from behind over the past two weeks, putting more pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco to make plays. He has struggled in that role, throwing one touchdown pass and four interceptions. Baltimore will need to establish the running game and likely will give Alex Collins another opportunity. However, he must do a better job holding onto the football or he will be watching from the sideline.
The Ravens will attack Oakland quarterback EJ Manuel, who was thrust into the starting role for the injured Derek Carr. However, the Raiders would like to rely on Marshawn Lynch to anchor the offense, despite his recent struggles. The Ravens' defense has not been able to contain opposing running games over the past two weeks and sorely misses nose tackle Brandon Williams. As a result, Baltimore will stack the box and force Manuel to throw.
The Raiders won't put too much on Manuel, who will be asked to manage and lead the offense without carrying it. A running game that has fallen on hard times the past two weeks will look to be revived against Baltimore, with Lynch looking to break out of a two-game slump in which he has 15 carries and 30 yards. Expect Lynch to get 20 carries this time, with the Raiders looking to sustain drives and increase their offensive snaps.
Defensively, the Raiders will look to get after slumping Flacco similar to the way they did Trevor Siemian a week ago. Siemian started off hot, but the Raiders confused him with a solid rush and coverage, holding Denver to 16 points.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens RT Austin Howard vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack. Mack is at the top of his game, coming off two sacks against Denver and with four for the season. He looks good enough to average one a game for the season and is a legitimate threat to defend his defensive player of the year award based on being equally good against the run. Howard, released by the Raiders during the offseason, has stepped in as the starter on the right side and has plenty of practice and training camp experience working against Mack. He'll need help either from a tight end or chipping running back.
--Raiders WR Amari Cooper vs. Ravens CBs Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. Cooper is struggling and the Ravens will look to keep it that way, regardless of which side he lines up on. Corners have had good luck with press coverage on Cooper, who appears to have a confidence problem and has not been physical enough to disengage and get free. The Raiders look for opportunities where opposing teams sleep on Cooper because of his poor numbers, isolate him one-on-one and break a big play or two to restore his confidence.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--Out: DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
--Doubtful: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders DL Mario Edwards Jr. He is listed as a starting end but often slides inside to tackle on passing downs. After two injury-plagued seasons, Edwards appears to have come into his own in Year 3. He has three sacks in four games, has defended the run well and has been a consistent presence inside to go along with Khalil Mack on the outside.
FAST FACTS: Baltimore has allowed 70 points over its last two games, its most over a two-game span since giving up 70 points in two losses in Weeks 8 and 9 of 2014. ... Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has been intercepted in every game this season and has thrown two picks in each of his last two games. Flacco's six interceptions are the second most in the NFL, behind only Cleveland's DeShone Kizer's eight. In the past three meetings, Flacco has 1,023 passing yards (341 per game), six TDs and two interceptions. ... Ravens LB C.J. Mosley has 18 tackles in the past two meetings. He leads the team and ranks fourth in the NFL with 38 tackles. ... Raiders QB EJ Manuel has lost each of his last five starts (all with the Bills). Manuel won his only career start vs. Baltimore, a 23-20 home win in Buffalo in 2013. ... Oakland RB Marshawn Lynch has 265 scrimmage yards and two rushing TDs in his past two games vs. Baltimore. ... Oakland DE Khalil Mack had two sacks last week and has four sacks in his past three games. He has eight games with at least two sacks since entering the NFL in 2014, tied for third-most in that span. He has seven sacks, three forced fumbles and three recoveries in his past seven home games. ... The Raiders rushed for just 24 yards in their 16-10 loss at Denver last week. It was their fewest rushing yards since they ran for 22 in a home loss to Tampa Bay in 2012. Oakland's 28 runs and 56 rushing yards since Week 3 are the fewest in the NFL.
PREDICTION: Points figure to be at a premium in this one, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. We'll give that advantage to the home team.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 21-17.