Baltimore Ravens Divisional Round Preview
The Baltimore Ravens (12-5) will be back on the road this week and headed to Orchard Park in upstate New York to square off with the Buffalo Bills (14-3). The game will be played at Bill Stadium, kickoff will be at 8:15 p.m. ET, and it will be broadcasted on NBC.
The Ravens are coming off an inspiring and dominant 20-13 win over the Tennessee Titans in the Wildcard Round where the team and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson dispelled serval narratives.
The win avenged back-to-back losses to the Titans including postseason play, marked the first playoff win of the Jackson era after an 0-2 start, and gave Head Coach John Harbaugh his NFL record eighth road playoff win.
Jackson sparked and speared headed yet another potent rushing outing for the offense and the defense had their most disciplined performance of the year according to Harbaugh where they held two-time league rushing champion, Derrick Henry, to just 40 yards on 18 carries.
Buffalo was led to a 27-24 victory in the Wildcard round over Indianapolis by third-year quarterback Josh Allen who finished 26-of-35 for 324 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The dark horse league MVP candidate also led the Bills in rushing last week with 54 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Limiting the lethal connection between Allen and top wide receiver Stefon Diggs who led the league in receptions, receiving yards and targets will be the top priority for the defense.
On offense, the Ravens might be in store for the first snow game of Jackson’s career and while he may not want that to happen, it could give their ground game the upper hand.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the matchup including potential X factors, injuries to monitor for each team, and a final outcome prediction.
What’s at stake:
The winner of this game will advance to the AFC Conference Championship and inch that much closer to the Superbowl while the loser will get started on their preparation for the 2021 offseason.
With a win, Baltimore would be headed back to the conference title game for the first time since the 2012 postseason when they went on to win it all and notch the second Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
If Buffalo were to win, it would mean that they would be playing in for a chance to punch their ticket for the Superbowl for the first time since they made their fourth straight appearance in 1993 which ultimately ended in a fourth straight loss.
Injuries to monitor:
Despite playing a very physical game in their win over Tennessee in the Wildcard round where they were the more aggressive team, the Ravens emerged in good health and will be headed to upstate New York without a lot of injury question marks.
Baltimore only had two players miss practice at some point this week for injury-related reasons and only one of them is listed as questionable yet both will likely be available to play on Saturday.
The Ravens only two players listed as questionable are starting cornerback Marcus Peters and veteran offensive guard/tackle DJ Fluker.
Peters missed Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice and was a limited participant on Thursday with a back injury. Fluker was limited all week with a knee injury that he has been nursing for the last three weeks.
Fluker rotates at right tackle with rookie Tyre Phillips at right tackle but has played just under 50 percent of the offensive snaps in each of the last two games. Phillips has played well when he’s been in the lineup and is a better run blocker than he is a pass protector.
Two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday with an illness but was removed from the final injury report after being a full participant on Thursday.
As for the Bills, they only had one player miss practice this week and that was second-year defensive end Darryl Johnson who is listed as questionable to play on Saturday despite not practicing all week because of a knee injury.
Buffalo had six players practiced on a limited basis on Tuesday and Wednesday. The most significant to worth monitoring is the health of veteran slot receiver Cole Beasley who gutted through a knee injury in the Wildcard round and was limited on Thursday as well.
Potential X factors:
RB J.K. Dobbins
The reigning league MVP isn’t the only Baltimore ball carrier that could greatly benefit from playing in the snow this week. The rookie running back is an explosive and elusive runner in his own right and brings a great blend of power, balance after contact, and breakaway speed to the Ravens’ dominant and punishing rushing attack.
He has scored a touchdown in a franchise and NFL rookie record seven straight games including the playoffs. Dobbins rushed for 43 yards and a score on nine carries against the Titans in the Wildcard round.
Buffalo’s run defense isn’t nearly as stout as they were last year and have been especially susceptible on the perimeter where opposing teams have been able to get to and gash them off the edge.
Dobbins has the vision, feet, and quickness to find and hit cutback lanes that open on the backside of plays and shows saint-like patience at times while his blockers pave the way to get him to the second level and spring him for chunk runs. He is poised for a big game no matter what the weather forecast holds.
DE/OLB Jihad Ward
The fifth-year pro is a versatile weapon and key piece in the Raven interior and edge rush rotation who is capable of generating pressure and wreaking havoc from where ever he lines up.
He only averages just over 25 defensive snaps per game including the playoffs but he has been disruptive whenever he’s dressed for a game and routinely makes the most of his limited opportunities.
Ward recorded 16 total tackles including four for loss, three sacks, two pass deflections, eight quarterback hits, and 11 pressures in 11 games in the regular season.
He performed well in the team’s win over Tennessee on Sunday with three solo tackles including one for a loss in which he batted a ball back into the grasp of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill before dropping him 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Even if it does end up snowing which can slow down pass rushers a bit, Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale finds creative ways to scheme up pressure that puts players like Ward in the best position to succeed.
Getting Allen to hurry his throws and make ill-advised decisions with the ball will be key in this game for Baltimore.
Recent history of the matchup:
Then Ravens have twice as many wins as the Bills in the all-time series between the two teams at 6-3 dating back to their first meeting in the 1999 season.
Baltimore has won the last three with the most recent victory coming last season in Week 14 when they edged out the Bills 24-17 on an afternoon of swirling winds thanks to a Peters swatting away a last ditch effort by Buffalo to score last minute.
This weekend’s game will mark the first time that the two teams have met in the playoffs and the second career meeting between Allen and Jackson who were the seventh and 32nd overall pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
During the Harbaugh era dating back to 2008, Baltimore is 4-1 against the Bills with an average margin of victory, outside of a 47-3 route in the 2018 season opener, being seven points or less.
I believe the Ravens are a bad matchup for the Bills on both sides of the ball and that they will win comfortably as long as they don’t fall behind or start slow early as they did against the Titans.
Buffalo has had the most potent offense in the league during their seven-game winning streak including postseason play and could make this game much more competitive than it should be if Baltimore doesn’t come out the gate firing on all cylinders.
I predict that the Ravens’ offense will take full advantage of the Bills’ leaky run defense that ranks in the middle of the pack in total yards allowed but allowed the sixth-most rushing touchdowns (21) and the eighth-most yards per attempt (4.6) during the regular season.
If snow does indeed fall on Saturday night, I foresee the Raven predominantly keeping the ball on the ground and rely heavily on their top-ranked rushing attack that averaged 191.9 yards per game during the regular season and 262.2 yards per contest during their six-game win streak that includes the Wildcard win over the Titans.
On defense, I believe that Martindale will make an already pass-happy offense completely one-dimensional by eliminating the one facet of their running game that has been effective which has been the designed quarterback run by Allen.
Allen rushed for eight touchdowns in the regular season which was tied with Taysom Hill for the third most amongst quarterbacks and one more than Jackson.
The Ravens defense did a great job of not letting Allen get loose with his legs in last year’s regular-season matchup and I predict they’ll do even better this time around with a trip to the title game in the line.
That means that he’ll have to try to beat the Ravens with his arm alone which doesn’t bode well for Buffalo either if conditions are less than ideal and then there’s still Baltimore’s top-notch secondary that he’ll be going up against.
Final outcome: Ravens beat Bills 34-20