Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Monday night

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With their suitcases put away for the next month, the Ravens had a chance to survey the rest of the division as well as the entire NFL on Sunday before hosting Indianapolis for their third prime-time game of the first five weeks of 2021.

Having overcome a slew of preseason injuries for a 3-1 start that includes three straight wins, John Harbaugh’s team has a golden opportunity to grab early control of the AFC North and keep itself firmly in the running for the conference’s top seed with four straight home games, a stretch that also includes a Week 8 bye. Of course, a win on Monday night would leave the Ravens in sole possession of first place in the division with both Cleveland and Cincinnati losing on Sunday afternoon.

But it’s unwise to peek too far ahead — even when playing a 1-3 team — when three of the first four games of the season were decided by a single score.

“We just have to go to work on the next day and our preparation for a very good Colts team,” Harbaugh said this past week. “They won [last Sunday]. You watch them on tape, [and] they’re excellent, they’re physical. Their defense is tremendous. They have a quarterback (Carson Wentz) who’s always given us trouble. We have our hands full coming up Monday night, and that’s all we’ll be thinking about.”

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Colts meet for the 14th time in the regular season with Indianapolis holding an 8-5 advantage, but Baltimore owns a 4-3 mark at M&T Bank Stadium against the team that once called the Charm City its home. Counting the playoffs, the Ravens have won four of the last five meetings dating back to the 2011 season.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins will catch their first touchdowns of 2021. It’s no secret that Andrews has received much attention from opposing defenses, but he’s on pace for over 1,000 receiving yards and Lamar Jackson’s NFL-leading 14.4 yards per completion is only going to continue softening the short-to-intermediate portion of the field. Counting the postseason, Andrews has gone eight straight games without a touchdown after catching 17 over his previous 27 regular-season contests. In other words, he’s overdue to find the end zone. The veteran newcomer Watkins has been everything for which the Ravens could have hoped with 16 catches for 257 yards over his first four games. The Indianapolis pass defense entered Week 5 ranked 27th in yards per pass attempt allowed and will be without top cornerback Rock Ya-Sin. Jackson should be ready to take full advantage of that weakness.

2. Running back Nyheim Hines will register a touchdown reception and lead Indianapolis in receiving yards. Any opponent not trying to test the Baltimore linebackers in coverage is doing Wink Martindale a favor at this point, and Colts head coach Frank Reich’s propensity for involving his backs as receivers will be something to watch. In 52 career games — but just eight starts — with Indianapolis, Hines has 184 catches for 1,351 yards and six touchdowns. Starter Jonathan Taylor is also a capable receiver, so the Ravens need to be ready for screens and swing passes trying to isolate off-ball linebackers and disrupt the rhythm of their blitzes. The Colts wide receivers and tight ends may not scare you, but tackling issues at the second level would be a great equalizer like it was in the Detroit game.

3. Justin Houston will reach 100 career sacks against his former team. The 32-year-old edge rusher downplayed any significance facing the Colts this week, but both he and rookie Odafe Oweh have to be salivating over the thought of facing an Indianapolis offensive line that will again be without right tackle Braden Smith and features veteran left tackle Eric Fisher, who has struggled in his return from last season’s torn Achilles tendon. Making matters worse for the Colts is the absence of All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson, which may leave Wentz running for his life from all angles in the pocket. Houston needs only 1 1/2 sacks to hit the century mark for his impressive career.

4. Baltimore will eclipse 150 rushing yards for the 33rd time since Jackson became the starting quarterback. I’ve poked some fun at the hype over the Ravens rushing for at least 100 yards in a record-tying 43 straight regular-season games, but that’s because the ceiling of this historic ground attack is much more impressive than a streak measuring a floor that isn’t a particularly impressive single-game accomplishment considering all but six NFL teams averaged at least 100 rushing yards per game last season. Since Jackson became the starting quarterback midway through 2018, the Ravens have run for at least 200 yards an incredible 21 times and for at least 150 yards in all but 11 of those 43 regular-season contests. If the Ravens are going to celebrate a new NFL record no one had heard of until recently, at least do it with an exclamation point against a respectable Indianapolis run defense that ranks 15th in yards per carry allowed and fifth in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric.

5. There will be no Wentz comeback bid this time around as the Ravens win a relatively comfortable 31-16 final. It’s no secret that the former Philadelphia quarterback has struggled to a substantial degree over the last couple years and has become a punching bag among pundits, but Baltimore has no reason to take Wentz lightly given his history against them. In Week 15 of his 2016 rookie season, Wentz and the Eagles were a 2-point conversion away from overcoming a late 10-point deficit that would have shocked the Ravens in Baltimore and put their playoff hopes on life support. Last year, the Ravens led by 16 midway through the fourth quarter in Philadelphia before Wentz threw for a touchdown, ran for another, and was stopped on a 2-point try that would have tied the game with less than two minutes to go. The Colts still have talented players capable of changing a game such as linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive end DeForest Buckner, but they simply haven’t been able to overcome their injuries in the same way the Ravens have, which is a major credit to Harbaugh and the organization. The Ravens will begin their month-long homestand on a high note, which is important with the upstart Los Angeles Chargers coming to town next Sunday.

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