Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass in the second quarter of the NFL Week 7 game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The Bengals led 13-10 at halftime.Cincinnati Bengals At Baltimore Ravens Week 7

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First-place Ravens stare down Vikings

The first-place Baltimore Ravens return from their bye week to host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore (5-2) had an extra week to recover from a 41-17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7. The Bengals (5-3) proceeded to lose to the New York Jets, meaning the Ravens regained the top spot in the AFC North without lifting a finger and return energized with a favorable four-game stretch upcoming.

“It’s great to be in first place (but) it doesn’t matter,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We are in first place after seven games. We need to be in first place after 17 games. That’s what we’re shooting for and to do that we really need to win this next game.”

The Ravens boast the third-ranked offense in the NFL (417.6 yards per game) and could get a boost on Sunday as tight end Nick Boyle (knee injury) has been practicing and could make his season debut.

Also looking to return is wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring), but he did not practice on Wednesday.

“I’m very excited,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “(Boyle) brings a lot to the table for us — catching the ball, blocking, doing it all for us. He’s got a little funny personality too. We missed that, too.”

Jackson enters Sunday eighth in the AFC with 1,943 passing yards and seventh in rushing with 480 yards. He leads the NFL in game-winning drives (three), average yards per completion (13.3) and yards per rush (6.3). Jackson is 9-0 as a starter versus NFC teams.

“He throws the deep ball really well. Great scrambler. It’s like playing against a Wildcat a lot of times. You get extra gaps in the run game,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “You have to be really disciplined in where you’re going, and you’ve got to make the tackle.”

That task is more problematic now that Minnesota (3-4) visits Baltimore minus Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, who suffered a torn pec in the 20-16 Week 8 loss to Dallas. Hunter was tied for 10th in the NFL with 10 sacks.

The Vikings are also without cornerback Patrick Peterson (hamstring), who will miss at least the next three games. Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and cornerback Cameron Dantzler (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.

Minnesota needs to score more points. Take away a 34-point effort in a win over Carolina and the Vikings averaged 14 points in the other three October games, two losses.

The Vikings have had success on their opening drives but haven’t been able to sustain it despite an offense ranked seventh in the NFL (394.7 yards per game). Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for 1,953 yards and 14 touchdowns against two interceptions.

The Vikings are sixth in the NFC in first-half points (13 per game) but 28th in second-half points (9.1 per game). This has fueled the Vikings penchant for last-minute losses like the one against Dallas.

Minnesota has also had problems in the Red Zone recently, managing touchdowns on 62.5 percent of their trips inside the 20 over the past three games, ranking 15th in the league.

“I think we just have to find ways when we get down into the Red Zone to score touchdowns and not kick field goals,” Cousins said. “Convert third downs, protect the football, avoid negative plays, and stay in favorable distances and the points will come.”

The Vikings were 1-of-13 on third down against the Cowboys.

The Ravens and Vikings have split their six all-time meetings. The Vikings won the last matchup, in 2017, getting six field goals from Kai Forbath in a 24-16 home win.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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