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Ah, the “Battle of the Beltways” has returned.

A game pairing that occurs once every 4 years for the regular season, although just about in every preseason as well.  It’s fitting that the same years in which the Summer Olympics and Presidential Elections occur, also the two teams in the area surrounding the nation’s capital.

Separated by a mere 30 or so miles from each other, there isn’t a more densely contested ground for sports affection in the U.S. (San Francisco & Oakland are close; NYC’s metro area is too widespread that both teams get more room to have fans)  The Redskins dominance of being on TV spreads south to encompass almost the entirety of VA, while the Ravens have a similar reach up towards York, PA.  It’s the in-between areas that have varying sports loyalty.  (including nearby influences from PA and NY)

Now on Sunday (1pm on CBS), this will be the 5th match-up pairing these two squads in the regular season.  It will be the first for Robert Griffin III and the second for Joe Flacco.

Overall, the Ravens have won 3 of the 4 games played between the two teams.  Also, this will be Flacco’s first time playing in D.C., but he shouldn’t worry as the weather/climate won’t be too much different and there should be plenty of Ravens fans able to show up.

What he should be concerned about is a couple of things:

First thing is that the offense is not playing well.  Last week, Ray Rice had a pretty good day with the big 30+ yard touchdown run against the Steelers.  However, he was only given 12 carries total.  It is very rare that the Ravens lose a game when Rice has 20+ carries, so that should be on the minds of the offense this coming Sunday.

Which leads to the fact that the Redskins currently have the best rushing offense in the NFL.  While Adrian Peterson in Minnesota may end up with the most rushing yards for the year, the Skins have a double threat with both their running back (who has eclipsed 1,000 yards so far this season) and their elusive quarter back.  RGIII broke the previous record of rushing yards by a quarterback for a season just last week.  That means, the rookie quarterback has 4 more weeks to add to the total which was previously set by then rookie Cam Newton last year.  Its imperative that Flacco’s offense controls the clock better.

This is also the 3rd consecutive week the Ravens face an opponent who is clinging on to postseason hope, rather than comfortably ahead or out of contention.  Just 3 weeks ago, at 3-6, the Redskins seemed done and sports analysts were considering what their draft order would be this April.  Instead of gloom, they won 3 straight while the NFC East leading Giants have lost a couple of games, only leading their division by a single game now.  So the Ravens better expect a Redskins team wanting back in to the playoffs after missing it the previous 4 seasons.

Also, the Ravens need to be in the game mentally and not coast any more the rest of the season.  The game last week should have been won by the Ravens, if only they played to win rather than expecting the Steelers to quit and lose.  Everything was in place for that game to be very easy for the Ravens with everything in their favor.

Now at 9-3, despite being a very good record, people will count out the Ravens for the rest of the year.  Remember, they can win just 2 more games and they’ve won the division, but momentum is key when heading to the playoffs.  Even just winning this Sunday should clinch them a playoff spot, but they need to consider everything else.  They proved against the Chargers and Steelers that they can win on the road against quality opponents, but proved doubters right last week that they could in fact lose at home.

With Sunday’s game against the Redskins and the following games against the Broncos, Giants, and Bengals (in that order), the Ravens will only face winning teams looking to the playoffs.  It won’t get any easier for our city’s team.

This is where it counts the most.  This is the time for great football.  This is when we love this sport above all others.

This is the time for the Ravens to prove that they’re closer to a 13-3 club than a 9-7 club.