1. The Ravens' strength is their running game. What is the single biggest reason for that? Is Justin Forsett that good? Is it the interior offensive line? Is it opposing defenses having to account for Joe Flacco?
The Ravens have had a renewed rushing attack partially thanks to each aspect that you mentioned. Unlike the early 2000s Ravens, Baltimore now has a quarterback with arguably the strongest arm in the league and can flick the ball 60 yards as easy as he can throw a simple swing pass. That forces the defense to play at least a little honest on the back-end and not creep up a safety as often.
Next is a much better offensive line that is actually healthy for the first time in a while. The Ravens came into the year having questions with their new center (acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay) and a second year right tackle. Ricky Wagner, that second year right tackle, has been one of PFF's highest rated tackle the entire season. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore's new center, came in running a similar scheme and was able to get up to speed quickly. Add in Pro Bowl level talent at left tackle, left guard and right guard and you have one of the best lines in all of football right now, able to open holes up for Justin Forsett.
Forsett is a weird case of a guy that just couldn't ever string things together due to injuries and to being behind star running backs at every team he was on. He wasn't expected to be the main rusher for the Ravens by any stretch and ultimately got the nod after beating out his only real competition in Bernard Pierce. After that, his record speaks for itself.
Combining it all together is the Ravens' new offensive coordinator in Gary Kubiak. Running a much better version of the zone blocking scheme than what the Ravens tried to run last year, he is able to piece all three of those things together to create a pretty nasty offense at times.
2. Speaking of Forsett, he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Will the Ravens sign him to a long-term contract?
This is one of the hardest questions to speculate about really. On one hand, Forsett is having a great year with the Ravens and has by all means saved the front office from what could have been a rather embarrassing debacle, and he doesn't have as many carries on him as other rushers his age. On the other hand, Forsett does have a history of inconsistency and injuries, while he is getting ready to turn 30. Rushers are one of the easier things to replace, especially with the scheme that the Ravens run.
I think the Ravens will offer him a solid contract for a guy in Forsett's position, but they won't give him a Brinks truck by any means. I think that with the state of the Ravens' salary cap over the next few years as well as the typical decline of running backs at around this age will have the Ravens front load the contract in order to save themselves if he suddenly stops being as good or if they have a younger player that can live up to the expectations.
3. Who needs to have a good game on Sunday for the Ravens if the team is going to go into the playoffs?
The secondary as a whole is really where the Ravens' playoff hopes are at. The offense can string up 30 points an the run defense has been one of the best all season. But the pass defense has allowed teams to stay in games that they shouldn't be in and has cost the Ravens some wins this season.
The Ravens really need to win out at this point to have the best shot at getting in and that means taking care of business in the only area to not really have that happen this season, the secondary. Then if the Ravens get in, they will face a barrage of the best quarterbacks in the league if they want to get to the Super Bowl, needing that secondary to continue an elevated play in order to succeed.
4. If you were Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, how would you attack the Ravens defense?
That is tough because the Jaguars are a little more limited in what they can do, but quick passes that allow the receivers to do something with it. The Ravens secondary has been absolutely abysmal at covering guys closely and then even worse at making the tackle after the catch. Get a guy on a quick pass and have a miss tackle and that could be seven points on the board. Don't let Bortles sit back there and try to pick apart the defense or you'll be finding another quarterback for the rest of the season as the Ravens have done everything possible on defense to hit the quarterback as often and as hard as they can.
5. Give us your prediction for the game. Do the Ravens clobber the Jaguars, or is this a trap game where the Jaguars can take advantage of an inconsistent Ravens team?
I think the Ravens ultimately take care of business. They know what they need to do in order to get to the playoffs and the Jaguars are simply in the way at this point. The Ravens have done exceptionally well this season with the bottom tier of teams and not falling prey to the typical trap games that playoff caliber teams hit each season. Add in the Ravens pass rush, especially against young quarterbacks and I think this is one of the worst games of Bortles' young career and the Ravens coast to a victory.
Ravens 31 - Jaguars 17