Ravens-Seahawks: The three keys

Here's why I love 4 p.m. start times: We can all kick back and relax this afternoon, watch the early games and then have the Ravens carry us through the early part of the evening.

And with the Bengals and Steelers playing at 1 p.m. today, we'll all get to enjoy that key AFC North battle before the Ravens hit the field.

If the Steelers earn a win today, Baltimore can stand alone atop the division with a victory at Seattle. If Cincinnati picks up a big home victory, the Steelers will fall a game and a half behind the Ravens.

That's a nice little win-win.

Focusing our attention back on the Ravens and Seahawks, here are three keys to today's showdown out west:

1. Make Tavaris beat ya

Yes, the Seahawks are only averaging 88.3 rushing yards per game, third-worst in the NFL. Yes, running back Marshawn Lynch is just 26th in the league in rushing. But Lynch is a talent, and he can be really tough to bring down in the open field once he gets going. (That gives me one more chance to sneak this clip into an entry. I know, I'm obsessed.) Lynch is coming off a 23-carry, 135-yard performance last week against the Cowboys, so we know he's capable of doing big things.

We can't say the same for Seahawks quarterback Tavaris Jackson, who has thrown just six touchdowns and nine interceptions in seven games. Jackson simply isn't talented enough to put a team on his back and win them a game, which is why the Ravens need to force him to try and do just that.

2. Don't look past Leon

Leon Washington is only averaging 22.7 yards per kickoff return, and he ranks just 12th in the NFC in that category. But don't let those numbers fool you; Washington's still one of the most dangerous returners in the league. Last year, Washington returned three kicks for touchdowns, giving him seven return TDs for his career. The Ravens' kick coverage has been very shaky this year, as they gave up a touchdown two weeks ago and are allowing 34.3 yards per return, worst in the NFL. They need to be on their game today to keep Washington in check.

3. Start fast

The Ravens need to get off to a good start today, plain and simple. Playing in an incredibly tough environment, looking to put two letdown losses behind them, John Harbaugh's guys have to come out of the tunnel hot, take the CenturyLink Field crowd out of it and force any thoughts of another disappointing road performance out of their minds. Luckily, the Ravens have been a great first quarter team this year; they haven't allowed an opponent to score a single point on its opening drive all season and have allowed just 13 first-quarter points overall.

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