Baltimore Ravens Wildcard Round Preview
The Baltimore Ravens (11-5) will be traveling to Nashville, Tennessee to faceoff with the Titans (11-5) for the third time in the last calendar year, except this time, the game will be played in Nissan Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET on ESPN after the previous two meetings took place in Charm City, broadcasted on CBS and didn’t end well for the home team.
While the Ravens coaches and player have tried their best to downplay the revenge component to this matchup and insist that what transpired in the past between them won’t have any bearing on their approach, fans and pundits know that they will out for blood and looking to avenge back-to-back touch losses.
The Titans rolled into Baltimore in the divisional round of the 2019 playoffs and steamrolled the top-seeded Ravens to a 28-12 victory thanks to a punishing rushing attack led by two-time league rushing champion, Derrick Henry.
Tennessee returned to the scene of the crime 10 months later and even though the Ravens were able to build up a 21-10 lead at one point in the Week 11 regular-season rematch, it couldn’t help their depleted defensive line contain Henry for an entire 60 minutes. The Titans rallied back to force overtime and wound up winning 30-24 after Henry ripped off a 29-yard walk-off touchdown.
Stopping Henry will be priority No.1 for the defense since he is the driving force of that offense and the entire team as a whole but the Ravens know that to advance to the next round, they must focus on executing on both sides of the ball.
“It’s not about them,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “It’s about us. It didn’t really matter who we played. We’re going to go in there with the same mentality, just focus on our assignment, and try to come out with a W.”
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 Divisional Round of the playoffs and keep their championship aspirations alive for another week while the loser will get started on their preparation for the 2021 offseason.
With a win, Baltimore would not only avenge their back-to-back losses at the hands of the Titans and wash the bitter taste out of their mouths, but it would finally dispel the media narratives that they are ‘choke artist’ in the postseason and that the reigning league MVP [Jackson] can’t win in a playoff game.
“I don’t really care about what people got to say,” Jackson said. “It is what it is, but I’m definitely trying to erase that narrative right there. That’s No.1 right now in my mind.”
If Tennessee were to win, it would mean that they would advance to the Divisional round for the second year in a row and further fuel the fire and prove the aforementioned false narratives to be true for at least another year.
Injuries to monitor:
According to Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are “probably the healthiest” they have been in a “long time” and their final injury report reflects and reinforces that belief. Baltimore has seven players listed as questionable and all have a chance and are trending towards playing on Sunday.
The seven players are offensive linemen Patrick Mekari (back), DJ Fluker (knee), and Ben Bredeson (knee), wide receiver Willie Snead (ankle), cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (shoulder) and Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder), and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (thigh).
Mekari, Snead, and Ngakoue missed the season finale and Smith missed the final three games of the regular season. All four players, with the exception of Snead, practiced all week and he only missed Wednesday.
Fluker is the biggest question mark heading into this matchup because he sat out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday and returned as a limited participant on Friday.
He has split time with rookie Tyre Phillips at right tackle down the final stretch of the regular season so if he can’t go, the team has faith in the ability of the third-round pick out of Mississippi State to get the job done against a suspect Tennessee defense.
A player that has missed practice all week and not listed on the injury report but is also on track to play on Super Wildcard Weekend as well is punter Sam Koch.
The veteran specialist remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 List that cost him his 15-year streak of consecutive starts and games but Harbaugh told reporters that he doesn’t need to practice for the team to believe in his ability to perform punting and holding duties against the Titans.
As for Tennessee, they don’t have any players listed on their final injury report which can only lead one to assume that they anticipate every player that missed practice time at some point this week to be available to play on Sunday.
Nevertheless, two of their starting offensive linemen have missed at least two practices this week—tackle Dennis Kelly (knee) and guard Rodger Saffold (ankle)—and star wide receiver AJ Brown missed practice on both Thursday and Friday but told reporters that “If I got breath in my body, I’m going to play.”
Potential X factors:
TE Mark Andrews
The Pro Bowl tight end had one of his best games of the year when these teams faced off in Week 11. He finished with a season-high 96 receiving yards on five catches and his 31-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter gave the Ravens a double-digit lead to open the second half.
Andrews was nursing an ankle injury heading into last year’s Divisional Round matchup which prevented him from elevating and high pointing a pass from Jackson in the first quarter that bounced off his hands and ended up being intercepted by Titans safety Kevin Byard.
It ended a promising opening drive for the Ravens offense that appeared to be destined for points after they marched 44 yards in seven plays to the Tennessee 36-yard line following the defense forcing a punt on the Titans’ first possession of the game.
That turnover swung the momentum in the favor of the Titans and the Ravens were never able to gain it back. Andrews isn’t suffering from any ailments this time around and was determined to help the team return to this stage and redeem themselves.
“Last year, I was hurting bad. Obviously, that play replays in my head a ton, and I’ve worked really hard this offseason to try to get back to this point, obviously, and play better and be healthy, and I am right now.”
Andrews is Jackson’s most trusted target in the passing game and especially in clutch situations and on third downs. His quarterback isn’t afraid to throw it to him in double and sometimes triple coverage or thread the needle into tight windows and routinely gives him opportunities to win make contested catches and win jump-balls.
DE Calais Campbell
There is a common belief among media members that cover the Ravens that the team was inspired to reshape and reloaded their defensive front seven as a reaction to what happened to then in the playoffs at the hands of the Titans and that they headed into the 2020 offseason determined not to get beat like that again.
Their first move in the remodeling of that part of the roster was the acquisition of Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ for the mere price of a fifth-round pick in this past year’s draft.
Even though he has missed some time of his first season with the Ravens the six-time Pro Bowler has been as dominant as advertised when healthy with four sacks, 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and six pass deflections in 12 games.
He wasn’t suited up when the Titans came to Baltimore in the regular season and his presence, as well as that of fellow veteran defensive lineman Brandon Williams, in the interior of the defensive line, was sorely missed.
This time around both Campbell and Williams will be back in uniform and in the starting lineup to lead the charge of what is expected to be a throwback trench warfare of a football game.
“Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs to ever play this game,” Campbell said. “He’s in a zone right now. I take pride in the challenge of lining up and trying to shut him down.”
Campbell faced off against Henry and the Titans twice a year while he was a Jaguar from 2017-2019 and while his team didn’t always fare well, he produced several dominant individual performances.
In six games against Tennessee, while he was in Jacksonville, he recorded 25 total tackles including 10 for loss, five sacks, nine quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
Now that he is surrounded by much better players and a part of a deep defensive line rotation, will be much fresher and be able to use his great strength, length, and technique to wreak havoc much more often.
Don’t be surprised if you see Campbell beating linebackers to the ball carriers by shedding and splitting multiple blocks or just utterly abusing offensive linemen in one-on-one opportunities.
“It looks like’s physically he’s back,” Harbaugh said of Campbell. “He’s a very strong, very agile big man. He can move laterally, he can extend, he can get off blocks, of course, he takes up a lot of space. He’s a very athletic guy for a man his size and he knows how to play. He knows how to play the schemes, plays very hard. So he’s definitely a factor, a big factor.”
Recent history of the matchup:
Tennessee holds a slim one-game lead in the all-time series between the two teams at 13-12 including postseason play dating back to their first meeting in the Ravens’ inaugural 1996 season when they were still based in Houston and were still called the Oilers and the two rivals competed against each other twice a year in the AFC Central division.
This weekend’s game will mark the fifth time the two teams have met in the playoffs and in the previous four meetings, the road team came away with the victory which bodes well for the visiting Ravens.
During the Harbaugh era dating back to 2008, Baltimore is 3-5 against the Titans with the margin of victory being either razor-thin or by two or more possessions.
I predict that the Ravens will not only avenge their last two losses to the Titans in the regular and postseason, but they will do so in a dominant fashion.
This time around they have all the right pieces to do what they do best on both sides of the ball as well as combat what Tennessee does best on offense and take advantage of what the Titans struggle with on defense.
History has not been kind to the home team when these two AFC powerhouses square off in the postseason and I believe that the streak of the visitors emerging as the victors will continue on Sunday.
The Ravens will win with the simple formula that they have lived by throughout their franchise history and have exemplified since Jackson became the full-time starter and that is using their dominant rushing attack and tenaciously stingy defense to beat the opposition into submission.
Final outcome: Ravens rout Titans 42-17