Of the Ravens' remaining opponents, the toughest might be the 6-7 San Diego Chargers, who were the consensus favorites to win the AFC West before the season. The Chargers have been one of 2011's biggest disappointments, but they pose a serious threat to the 10-3 Ravens, who must win tonight to maintain control of the AFC's top playoff seed.
Here are five storylines to watch as the Ravens play the desperate Chargers in San Diego tonight:
1. Going back to the West Coast: The last time they were in the Pacific Time Zone, the Ravens lost a 22-17 stunner to the Seattle Seahawks. They insisted all week that there won't be a letdown Sunday because the Chargers are a formidable opponent, but they actually mean it this time. The Ravens are taking the Chargers very seriously, and rightfully so. They have usually started slow under coach Norv Turner, but since 2008, the Chargers are 14-2 in December and January.
2. Philip Rivers got his groove back: Perhaps the biggest reason for San Diego's struggles, particularly during their six-game losing streak, was the up-and-down play of quarterback Philip Rivers. But Rivers, who has thrown 17 interceptions in 2011, was very effective in back-to-back wins for the Chargers. He had a combined six touchdown passes and zero interceptions in wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, and he is back to playing at a very high level entering Sunday night.
3. Prime opportunity for T-Sizzle: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs leads the AFC with 13 sacks and is two shy of the Ravens' franchise record for sacks in a season (set by Peter Boulware). Suggs has been on fire of late. He had three strip-sacks in the 24-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts. San Diego's offensive line has been ripped apart by injuries, so much that they started ex-Ravens tackle Jared Gaither days after plucking him off waivers. Suggs and Co. could have a field day Sunday.
4. San Diego's towering targets: The Chargers have a pair of tall, athletic wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, who are both 6-5. And tight end Antonio Gates, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history, is 6-4. With Rivers spinning the ball to those guys in San Diego's vertical passing attack, the Baltimore secondary will face one of its toughest tests of the season, especially if Lardarius Webb isn't able to suit up because of a toe injury.
5. The return of Ray Lewis: When it was revealed that Lewis had a toe injury a month ago, Ravens fans feared the worst. But we have learned a lot about this team in the franchise icon's absence, with the Ravens going 4-0 without their heart and soul. But Lewis is expected to return to the lineup against the Chargers, and it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix. He will likely want to play every snap if he's active, but the Ravens would be wise to take it easy if possible.