Mon, 01 Mar 2021

Late for Work 1/15: Predictions for Ravens vs. Bills

Baltimore Ravens
16 Jan 2021, 04:25 GMT+10

Kevin Eck

Predictions for Ravens vs. Bills

The consensus is that tomorrow night's AFC divisional round game between the Ravens and Bills in Buffalo is the best matchup of this weekend's playoff contests.

Both teams have been rolling over the past couple months. The Bills (14-3) have won seven in a row, while the Ravens (12-5) have won six straight. In the final three games of the regular season, the Bills averaged 47.3 points and outscored their opponents 142-54. In that same span, the Ravens outscored their opponents 105-30.

The game marks the second meeting between Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, two members of the heralded 2018 quarterback class. Jackson leads the league's No. 1 rushing attack, while Allen leads the league's No. 3 passing attack. Jackson and the Ravens won last season in Buffalo, 24-17.

Baltimore is a 2.5-point underdog this time, but a slight majority of the pundits we looked at (25 of 47) believe the Ravens will advance to the AFC Championship Game. Twenty-five of the 27 pundits who predicted the score have it being decided by a touchdown or less, with 17 believing the winner will prevail by three points or less.

Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:

The Ravens have the defense to slow down the Bills' explosive offense.

The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi: "The Ravens reconstructed their defensive front in the offseason to stymie a team like the Tennessee Titans in last week's wild-card-round win. Their secondary was stockpiled with depth to defend against a team like the Buffalo Bills, who have become one of the top teams in the league behind the dynamic pairing of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Allen is much improved from last season's meeting, but I trust Defensive Coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale will do enough to make him uncomfortable."

The Ravens should be able to exploit the Bills' suspect run defense.

The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "The Bills ranked 17th in DVOA against the run and allowed 4.6 yards per carry, seventh worst in the league. They gave up 163 yards on 30 carries against the Colts, and the Ravens will present a far greater challenge because of Jackson. The Bills struggled to stop opponents with mobile quarterbacks, such as the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. They defended well in short-yardage situations but less well once ball carriers broke past 5 yards, per Football Outsiders. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano received below-average run-defense grades from Pro Football Focus."

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "While recency bias may be at play here, my slight edge goes to the Ravens because the Bills defense that showed up in the wild-card round looked too much like the Bills defense from the first half of the season. The Bills have given up more than 200 rushing yards twice this year and seven times since Sean McDermott took over. Indianapolis had chances to win last week because Buffalo's defense was overwhelmed by a cohesive rushing attack that got to the outside in key moments."

Bold prediction: Lamar Jackson will become the first quarterback to rush for 100 yards in consecutive playoff games.

ESPN's Jamison Hensley: "He produced just the sixth 100-yard rushing game by a quarterback in the playoffs in last weekend's wild-card round when he ran for 136 at Tennessee. The Bills haven't allowed a quarterback to gain more than 61 yards rushing over the past two seasons, containing Kyler Murray, Cam Newton and even Jackson - who was held to 40 rushing yards in Buffalo 13 months ago."

With a possibility of snow in the forecast, the weather could favor Jackson and the Ravens.

NFL Network's Kurt Warner: "As long as you can hold your footing, the guy with the ball has the advantage over the defender. The guy that knows where he's going has the advantage over the guy who doesn't know where he's going. So I believe because of his quickness and his balance that it can be a huge advantage for him to play in the snow or in the weather as long as he feels comfortable with that balance in the snow."

Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager: "Lamar Jackson and the way that the Ravens play football is built for cold weather. What they do is they pummel you and pummel you and pummel you, so that by after the third quarter, you're like, 'You're really still running the ball up our gut? You're really still coming at our defensive tackles?' By the fourth quarter, defenders don't want to tackle anymore, they're banged up, they're exhausted, they're freezing."

As well as the Ravens have been playing, the Bills have been even better.

Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: "Over the last several weeks, the Bills may be playing better than any team in the NFL. The Ravens are playing good football at the right time, too, but I don't think I'd pick anyone to go to Buffalo and beat the Bills right now."

Bills QB Josh Allen and WR Stefon Diggs give the Bills a slight edge.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: ""This will be a close game, but in the end I think Allen will make the game-winning plays late to pull it out - but it will be razor-thin close."

Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer*:* "The difference will be the Bills' Stefon Diggs, who can consistently get the better of Marcus Peters outside to boost Allen."

How Allen handles the Ravens' blitz packages will be key.

The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia and Ted Nguyen: "No team blitzed more than the Ravens during the regular season. Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale sent five rushers or more 45.5 percent of the time, according to Sportradar. But the Ravens' blitz packages weren't nearly as effective as they were last year. Baltimore ranked 19th in EPA per snap when it blitzed, according to TruMedia and Pro Football Focus. In 2019, the Ravens were the league's most effective blitzing team. Allen, meanwhile, has shredded the blitz all season long. The Bills rank third (EPA per snap) league-wide when opponents send five or more pass rushers."

Ravens WR Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Bills WR Cole Beasley could be difference-makers.

Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson: "[Brown] is the dude that can take the top off the coverage and open up everything for this offense. Here's the thing: He doesn't have to catch everything. All I need to see in the beginning of the game is him streaking down the middle of the field, backing up that defense. Just take a shot. ... The fact that you do that early opens up that defense and gives you the ability to call more plays that can use the talents of your wide receivers and tight ends and running backs. With the way he's playing, I do feel like he's going to step up and make plays. He's not just going to move the chains, but expect a big play down the middle of the field and a touchdown for Marquise."

Schrager: "I think [Beasley is] the best slot receiver in football. I think he's the biggest difference-maker in this game that is a non-quarterback because I believe Stefon Diggs is going to have a battle with Marcus Peters or Marlon Humphrey, and that might create an opportunity for the slot to get involved ... Cole Beasley will get his, and I think it typically happens in the second half in big spots.

Jackson and Allen Have Silenced Their Critics

Jackson and Allen have more in common than being quarterbacks selected in the first round in 2018. They both were viewed as projects, while fellow first-round quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were considered prototypical NFL passers.

ESPN's Hensley referred to tomorrow night's Ravens-Bills matchup as "the Super Bowl of old takes exposed," as Jackson and Allen have become the Pro Bowl quarterbacks of that class.

"Allen and Jackson lacked polish. They were too inaccurate. Even if they panned out, it would take five years before teams would see a return on their investments," Hensley wrote. "When the Bills traded up for Allen at No. 7, there were tweets the team chose the wrong Josh. ... It was an even crueler draft day for Jackson, who plummeted to the bottom of the first round before the Ravens traded to get him with the No. 32 pick."

Jackson set the single-season rushing record for a quarterback in 2019 en route to winning the league MVP award, and this season he became the first quarterback to have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Allen is an MVP contender after becoming the first quarterback to surpass 4,500 yards passing, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a single season.

"Biggest uncertainties of the 2018 draft? Jackson and Allen are more like the faces of this generation's dual-threat quarterbacks," Hensley wrote.

Rapper Mikes Jones Has Become a Lamar Jackson Fan, Calls John Harbaugh 'an OG'

Rapper Mike Jones was pleased to learn that Jackson is a fan of his music, and he in turn has become a fan of the Ravens quarterback.

Jones was trending on social media this week after USA Today reporter Mike Jones asked Jackson a question following the Ravens' win over the Titans last Sunday. Upon hearing the reporter's name, Jackson couldn't hide his excitement.

"When I seen it, I was like, 'Wow,'" Jones said on Glenn Clark Radio yesterday. "It really hit me because it let me know the music really touched. For him to react like that, that was a big 'wow' to me."

Jones added: "Just for him to say what he said the other day, and pay that love back to me and let me know he was riding and going through his life and I was the instrumentation of it, while he was going through it. And there was a record or two or whatever that he was able to groove with to help him do his thing and when that reporter mentioned it, it just brought back a flashback. ... To me, it was a moment to let me know he was rocking with me. And I'm rocking with him."

Jones also was appreciative that Head Coach John Harbaugh said he's going to get one of Jones' albums to see what he's about.

"I'm showing love to the coach because he's an OG with it," Jones said. "Because he was like, 'I don't know who he is, but I gotta go get that album.' So I support him. I support the whole team. I support Lamar doing his thing. Everything go good and the coach say he like 'Next to You,' me and Lamar link up, man I'm gonna have to come out there for the Super Bowl."

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