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AP Pro32 ballot from Lynch

AP Pro32 ballot from Lynch

Ballot and comments from AP Pro 32 panel voter John Lynch of Fox Sports:

Week 14

JOHN LYNCH (Fox Sports)

1. Houston Texans - What a showdown coming with the Patriots coming on Monday night.

2. Atlanta Falcons - Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is coaching his tail off and this D is making great QB's look confused. Ask Drew Brees.

3. New England Patriots - What a showdown coming with the Texans on Monday night.

4. Denver Broncos - The Broncos lost to the three teams I have in front of them right now, but are a much better team now and I would like their chances versus all of them.

5. San Francisco 49ers - A bold move by Harbaugh to stick with Kaepernick at QB backfired against the Rams.

6. Green Bay Packers - Health may be the only thing holding the Pack back. Good news: Greg Jennings is back and Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews appear close to coming back. Bad news: WR Jordy Nelson is now out with a hamstring injury.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers - I moved them to the No. 7 spot with the anticipation of Big Ben coming back. With he and Polamalu back, this team is battle tested in meaningful games and tough to beat.

8. Baltimore Ravens - I know they are 9-3 and I like this team. Too many key injuries - Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and now possibly Suggs again makes them awful vulnerable.

9. New York Giants - The Giants have been very inconsistent and to me it starts up front on both sides of the ball. This D-line that has been so feared and integral to their success and championships in recent years needs to start dominating!

10. Chicago Bears - The Bears are now banged up on D. This team is built to succeed at this time of year and needs to get healthy to make their run.

11. Indianapolis Colts - The Colts continue their special season and are now 8-4. Andrew Luck is a special player and will be for a long, long time in this league.

12. Seattle Seahawks - I'm more impressed with this team and their rookie QB each week. Beating the Bears at Chicago is a big step for them as they had been rock solid at home but struggled on the road. The possible looming suspensions of their CB tandem would devastate this Defense and team.

13. Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals are stacking W's and proving to be tough competition.

14. Washington Redskins - The 'Skins are back in the hunt after an impressive W on Monday night against the Giants. Mike Shanahan and his staff are coaching their hearts out. On offense they are maxing out RG3's vast skill and on D they are doing a lot with a little.

15. Dallas Cowboys - Romo looked really good in the second half. Problem is, he needed to as the Cowboys let Nick Foles and the Eagles hang 33 on them.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs gave the Broncos all they could handle in the first half. In the second half, Peyton Manning and Von Miller proved to be too much for the Bucs. Schiano can coach and has this team prepared and ready to compete every week.

17. New Orleans Saints - The Saints just lost to the Falcons and now they travel to the Giants to face a ticked off Giants team.

18. Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson is an absolute stud. The Vikings need more like him.

19. St. Louis Rams - Jeff Fisher has done a masterful job with this team!

20. Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins had a tough draw facing the Patriots.

21. Buffalo Bills - Mario Williams is starting to make the impact the Bills expected. Too little, too late for the Bills and Mario?

22. Detroit Lions - Underachieving in Detroit! This team is very talented. Talent alone doesn't win you games.

23. San Diego Chargers - Another fourth-quarter lead for the Chargers and another blown fourth quarter lead for the Chargers. Their inability to finish will likely lead to a very different Chargers team next season.

24. Cleveland Browns - The Browns have won two in a row. That's right, the Browns have won two in a row.

25. New York Jets - Joe Namath may line up at QB for the Jets this week. Jets fan could only wish.

26. Tennessee Titans - Clearly not ready to compete with the Texans.

27. Carolina Panthers - Tough game for anyone to have to play in at KC.

28. Arizona Cardinals - Ugly!

29. Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles youth showed up on offense but their defense continued to play awful football at Dallas.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars - A step backward as the Jags fell to the Bills.

31. Kansas City Chiefs - God bless them all.

32. Oakland Raiders - The Raiders turnaround has a long way to go ... condolences to Dennis Allen and his family as they mourn the loss of his father.

---

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Stanley: Meaningful December games part of Ravens culture

Stanley: Meaningful December games part of Ravens culture

As the Ravens make their final month-long drive for the playoffs, they are right where they want to be: playing meaningful games in December.

Granted, they'd probably prefer a two-game lead in the AFC North, but they are once again right in the thick of the playoff chase, which is the way it has almost always been for the Ravens under John Harbaugh.

In fact, until last season, the Ravens had never played a game under Harbaugh in which they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

Still, the team missed the playoffs in 2013 and then again last season. Many younger players have little to no playoff experience.

"The biggest thing is just trying to somehow get it through to the young guys how unique of an opportunity we have," quarterback Joe Flacco said after Sunday's 38-6 win over the Dolphins. "Getting to the playoffs is a big-time accomplishment, and to position yourself in December to play these meaningful games is also a big-time accomplishment, and you can’t take it for granted."

Rookie first-round draft pick Ronnie Stanley is one of those younger players, and he said from the minute the Ravens called his name with the No. 6 overall pick in April, he fully expected to be in this position.

"When I got drafted, I knew I got lucky in the sense that usually teams like the Ravens aren't picking this early," Stanley said after Sunday's game. "And when I say teams like the Ravens I mean teams that are usually in the playoffs every year."

"I definitely knew I was coming to a team that was used to being in the playoffs and didn't accept anything less, so I was very excited about that."

Stanley missed four games with a foot injury, and his return -- and a solidified, adjusted offensive line that features All-Pro Marshal Yanda shifting over to play left guard -- is a major reason the Ravens have reeled off four wins in five games after an earlier four-game losing streak.

Now they head to New England on Monday atop the AFC North, and win or lose in New England, they will head to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day with a division title still in reach.

That's exactly how Harbaugh, Flacco and the veteran Ravens are used to having it. Now the onus is on Stanley and other young players to keep it that way.

"Our goal is always to be relevant in December," Harbaugh said last week. "We like to be in the lead in December. We want to have the lead in December, if we can. We’re in that position right now. That’s as much as we’ll talk about. It’s a one-week season for us."

RELATED: Ravens run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

 

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Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

One of the Ravens’ toughest challenges Monday night will be trying to contain Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. The Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, yielding just 73.8 yards per game. Blount is fifth in the league in rushing (957 yards) and is one of the NFL’s most physical backs.

Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins had 61 yards on 12 carries against the Ravens on Sunday, and his run style is similar to Blount’s. Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams talked about the pride the Ravens take in stopping the run after Sunday’s game.

“We’re the No. 1 run defense in the league right now,” Williams said. “That’s what we do. When running backs come against us, we just do our jobs.”

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady attack the Ravens. With tight end Rob Gronkowski done for the year with a back injury, Blount figures to be a major part of the Patriots’ game plan.

Blount already has four 100-yard games and is about to top 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career. Will Blount have his way against the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked defense? The answer to that question will play a key role in determining which team wins.

MORE: Joe Flacco can taste the playoffs