Thoughts on the late games:

Baltimore: The NFL’s most confusing team

Actually, it’s not that complicated. The Ravens play the good teams well and the bad teams poorly. This isn’t completely foreign — teams have fallen into traps like these before — but what makes it so baffling here is that the Ravens are an experienced team that shouldn’t be looking past inferior opponents.

If you weren’t already aware, the lead paragraph probably let the cat out of the bag: Baltimore lost to the Seahawks on Sunday, falling 22-17 in a game that was actually much more lopsided than the final score indicates. Tarvaris Jackson had his best game of the year and Marshawn Lynch totaled 167 yards as the Seahawks out-muscled and out-performed the Ravens and their world-class defense.

It was also a tough day for the Baltimore coaching staff, which panicked and completely ditched the running game after falling behind early. Ray Rice had just five carries while Joe Flacco attempted a career-high 52 passes.

The Seahawks simply looked like the better team, which is startling when you consider how poorly they’ve played in recent weeks.

All that said, it’s hard to be surprised by the fact that Baltimore laid an egg in the Pacific Northwest. The feisty Seahawks are sneakily dangerous at home, where they nearly beat Atlanta earlier this year and went 4-4 despite being a bad team otherwise in 2010. And the Ravens continue to struggle on the road and against weaker teams.

Ravens at home: 4-0
Ravens on the road: 2-3
Combined record of the teams they’ve beat: 31-25
Combined record of the teams they’ve lost to: 11-16

And considering that they barely held on to beat the terrible Cardinals at home and that the Titans and Seahawks are probably worse than their records would indicate, the above statistics might not do it justice.

Figuring they might fall into the trap again, we predicted on Friday that the Ravens would win by only two points. Baltimore was indeed flat on Sunday — flatter than anyone imagined. Now, they’ve squandered their edge on Pittsburgh in the AFC North. They’re always competitive against good teams, so I like their chances in January. The problem: I’m not convinced they’ll make it that far.

The Lions continue to fade

Remember September, when the Bills and Lions were the talk of the football world? We tried hard to remember that it was September and that the football season spanned four months, but it was so easy to catch Bills and/or Lions Fever. Now, on the same day that Buffalo sent a message that it wasn’t ready for prime time with a disgusting loss in Dallas, Detroit has followed suit with a terrible performance in Chicago.

The one-dimensional Lions were dominated by the Bears, who have clearly become the second-best team in the NFC North. A little over a month ago, the Lions were strutting after a fairly easy victory over Chicago in their first Monday Night Football game in nearly a decade. Since then, though, Detroit has dropped three out of four games, while the Bears have yet to lose.

The problem is that defenses have figured out how to stop a somewhat predictable Detroit attack that features Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and nobody else. Stafford, who was killing it until this week, had his worst game since his rookie season, while Johnson was only a factor in garbage time.

Detroit has to face a slew of good defenses down the stretch, and on Sunday it became evident that teams like Dallas and Chicago will make it extremely difficult for the young Lions to snap an 11-year playoff drought in 2011. Just like the Bills.

The Niners don’t need Frank Gore to win

Again, it was all about the defense Sunday, as the 49ers beat the Giants despite losing red-hot running back Frank Gore to a knee injury early.

The D completely shut down the Giants’ running game and made big plays when it mattered. Their top three players from each layer — Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Carlos Rogers — were again fantastic, forcing Eli Manning to make classic Eli Manning mistakes that were the difference in the end.

They trailed 13-12 at the start of the fourth quarter, but after an early score and a two-point conversion, it was a Rogers interception on the ensuing New York series that served as the turning point. On the very next play, Kendall Hunter was in the end zone and the Niners had their second touchdown in 59 seconds.

In the end, that was the difference. Gutty effort by the Giants on the road, but the better team won. The way San Francisco is playing defense, there aren’t many teams that they aren’t better than right now.