NFL Preview - San Diego (7-4) at Baltimore (7-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of 7-4 teams aiming for a third straight victory clash this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play host to the San Diego Chargers.
Both the Ravens and Chargers have used their back-to-back wins to stay in the hunt in tight division races. Baltimore is tied for second in the AFC North with Pittsburgh and Cleveland as all three clubs trail 7-3-1 Cincinnati, while San Diego is even with Kansas City in the AFC West and a game back of 8-3 Denver.
The Ravens will have one fewer day of rest as they were in action last Monday night and knocked off the New Orleans Saints 34-27 behind running back Justin Forsett's career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Joe Flacco threw for 243 yards and a touchdown, which was caught by wide receiver Steve Smith among his four receptions for 89 yards.
Safety Will Hill had an interception he returned 44 yards for a touchdown, while linebacker Elvis Dumervil had two of the club's four sacks.
"That was a really special win," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said. "You are going to have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference."
The Ravens were coming off a bye after having bested Tennessee 21-7 on Nov. 9, while the Chargers dropped three in a row heading into their bye in Week 10. They have since come out with wins over Oakland and St. Louis, topping the Rams in thrilling fashion 27-24 this past Sunday.
Quarterback Philip Rivers put the Chargers up by 10 on a 29-yard touchdown pass to wideout Keenan Allen with 8:09 to play, but the Rams came back with a touchdown with 2:04 to go and then moved into position for a game-tying field goal try with a little over a minute to play.
However, while trying for a go-ahead score, St. Louis quarterback Shaun Hill was picked off by San Diego safety Marcus Gilchrist just inside the end zone to secure the win.
The Chargers' defense held Hill to 198 passing yards and recorded two interceptions, while linebacker Andrew Gachkar picked up a fumble caused by defensive tackle Corey Liuget's sack and took it 13 yards for a score in the third quarter.
"They came up big the whole game," Rivers said about his defense. "We had some turnovers and some things and we put them in some tough spots. They were awesome."
Rivers was 29-of-35 for 291 yards with one touchdown pass while also having an interception returned 99 yards for a score. Allen ended with six catches for 104 yards and running back Ryan Mathews had 105 yards rushing and a score on 12 carries.
The Ravens lead the all-time series with the Chargers 5-4, with seven of those nine games taking place in San Diego. The Chargers have lost both of their trips to Baltimore.
This game marks the first meeting between the clubs at M&T Stadium since 2006.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Ravens have been getting solid production from their ground game all season long, but the Chargers' big game from their running was a pleasant surprise for a club that ranks 27th on the ground (89.5 yards per game) this season.
The 27-year-old Mathews appeared in his second game after missing seven in a row with a knee injury and has posted 175 yards rushing since his return. He averaged a career-best 8.8 yards per carry last game and his 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the longest scoring carry of his career.
"You never really know how much you miss a guy until he gets back and gets rolling like he did today, because some of those runs today are why he was drafted where he was, and why he is such a big impact player for us. You need a home run sometimes," said Rivers.
Forsett has been knocking them out of the park all season as his 5.83 rushing average leads all running backs and he sits third in the NFL with 903 yards on the ground.
Forsett is one of only three players in the NFL this season to have at least 65 total yards in every game this season, joining Dallas' DeMarco Murray and Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh.
The return of Mathews should help Rivers, who failed to throw at least two touchdown passes for only the third time in 10 games this season last weekend.
In his past four games versus the Ravens, Rivers has thrown for 1,183 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Flacco has struggled a bit more in this series, getting picked off three times to five touchdown passes and 771 yards in three games, though he passed for 355 yards in the most recent meeting. That came on Nov. 25, 2012, a 16-13 overtime victory.
Flacco will look to challenge a Chargers defense that is ninth in the NFL with 330.1 yards allowed per game and sixth in scoring defense at 19.6 points per game.
San Diego has yielded 10 points or fewer three times this season and hasn't done so in four games since 2007. However, the Chargers have yielded at least 23 points in five of their last six.
The Ravens rank fifth against the run and though they are giving up 264.6 yards per game through the air, 24 of their 29 sacks this season have come in the past six games.
Linebackers Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are leading the charge. Dumervil has 12 1/2 sacks this season, tied for the second most in the NFL and just three shy of a new franchise single-season record. Suggs, meanwhile, has six sacks and has 100 1/2 in his career.
Not only will Rivers have to avoid that duo, but he'll have a rookie starter under center in Chris Watt. The third-round selection is expected to take the role after San Diego placed its third center on injured reserve this season.
Rich Ohrnberger became the latest to have his season end due to a back injury. San Diego lost center Nick Hardwick after Week 1 due to a knee injury and Doug Legursky went down after Week 5 with a knee ailment.
The Chargers and Ravens right in the thick of the chase for their respective division crowns and come into this meeting red hot.
Baltimore has the luxury of playing at home and with a defense that can get to the quarterback. That will make Mathews a key element as he'll need to move the ball to keep the Ravens linebackers honest and Baltimore has had trouble defending quarterbacks who have time to throw.
Rivers has had some solid efforts against the Ravens, but working with a rookie center against a talented defense isn't an ideal situation and it is something Baltimore may be able to exploit.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 17, Chargers 13
11/30 08:47:47 ET