Kickoff: 1:05 p.m., M&T Bank Stadium
TV: Channel 13 (Baltimore) CBS crew (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM) and 98Rock (97.9 FM)
Jersey color: Purple
For the first time since 2012, the Ravens are hosting a playoff game. They clinched the AFC North by winning six of their last seven games and hope to ride that momentum into the postseason. Head Coach John Harbaugh has never lost an opening-round playoff game (6-0). Lamar Jackson, who will become the youngest quarterback (21 years old) in NFL history to start a playoff game, is unbeaten at home (4-0) as a starting quarterback. However, the Chargers were 7-1 on the road this season – 8-1 if you include their victory in London. Every time the Chargers traveled on a plane, they returned with a victory. Their only away defeat came at the Los Angeles Coliseum against the Rams. Both the Ravens and Chargers look capable of making a playoff run, but one of them will be going home.
The Ravens’ 22-10 victory in Week 16 may have been their best game of the season. Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr intercepted Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on the first play from scrimmage. Baltimore’s defense forced three turnovers and held Los Angeles to a season-low 10 points and 198 yards total offense. The defense sealed the victory in the fourth quarter when inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Tavon Young, who returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. . Baltimore leads the all-time series, 7-5, but this is the first playoff meeting between the two teams.
Does playing the Ravens for the second time give the Chargers an edge?
Los Angeles will be the first team to face the Ravens a second time since Jackson became the starter. They have seen his speed, and they have experienced Baltimore’s run-option attack. Does that mean the Chargers are better prepared to stop it? Jackson will still be the fastest quarterback they have faced, and the Ravens were the more physical team when they met in California. It will be interesting to see how much this game differs from last month, and whether the Chargers make enough adjustments to change the outcome.
Which quarterback will play better, the 15-year vet or the rookie?
Jackson was seven years old when Rivers entered the NFL. At age 37, Rivers knows this could be his last chance to reach the Super Bowl, which would be the icing on a Hall of Fame-worthy career. He will be highly-motivated to redeem himself after his worst game of the season against Baltimore. Meanwhile, Jackson seems oblivious to rookie jitters, but his 12 fumbles this season are cause for concern in a game where turnovers could make the difference. It’s an interesting matchup between two quarterbacks with very different styles.
Can the Ravens improve on third down and in the red zone?
Baltimore is 7-for-27 converting on third down in its last two games. When reaching the red zone, the Ravens have scored touchdowns just 25 percent of the time over the last three games. The Ravens almost squandered their Week 17 victory against Cleveland and let the Chargers hang around in Week 16, because they settled for too many field goals and didn’t convert enough third downs. Baltimore will need to make the most of its scoring opportunities to beat a quality team like the Chargers.
QB Lamar Jackson vs. Chargers front seven
The Chargers have one of the NFL’s fastest defenses. The Ravens have the NFL’s fastest quarterback. Los Angeles held Jackson to 39 yards rushing on 13 carries in Week 16, the best job anyone has done against Jackson since he became a starter. However, Jackson is a constant threat to break a long run.
Ravens pass rush vs. Chargers offensive line
Los Angeles couldn’t handle the Ravens’ front seven in Week 16. Rivers was hit eight times and sacked on four, with Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon bringing heat from outside, and Za’Darius Smith often lining up inside, joined by Onwuasor blitzing up the middle. Rivers is a great quarterback, but he’s not leaving the pocket very often. It could be another long day for him if the Chargers’ offensive line can’t protect.
Ravens secondary vs. Chargers wide receivers
Ravens safety Eric Weddle was one step ahead of Rivers in Week 16, guessing correctly where Rivers wanted to throw and calling defenses that took away his first option. Baltimore held Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen to just five catches for 58 yards, which paled in comparison to his regular season stats (97 catches, 1,196 yards). The Ravens had some defensive breakdowns in the secondary in Week 17 against the Browns that led to big plays. You can bet Rivers and Allen noticed. The Ravens’ secondary must be on its A-game to keep Rivers, Allen, and the Chargers’ other receivers from burning them.