The pieces seem to be falling into place for the Ravens. As they're getting healthier, the rest of their division foes are without their starting quarterbacks and are fading down the stretch. Baltimore owns a two-game lead in the AFC North and, despite a challenging remaining schedule, may increase it.
If the past two seasons didn't prove how critical it is to have a healthy Lamar Jackson, a look around the rest of the division hammers it home. Protecting Jackson is priority No. 1 for the Ravens' postseason hopes. If Baltimore does that, the Ravens will be a tough out.
As I stated before, I expect that Ronnie Stanley's play will improve over these next five weeks and into the playoffs. Perhaps no player benefitted more from the bye than him, and it should be noted that he practiced every day this week. Stanley knows he needs to be stronger.
Jackson doesn't like playing in the rain but has done reasonably well in it. In five rain games, he's completed 56.8% of his passes for 174 yards/game and thrown six touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also averaged 80 rushing yards/game. Fumbles (eight, four lost) have been the issue.
Conversely, Matthew Stafford has not played in the rain much, and foul weather, including high winds, will have a greater effect on their drop-back passing game than the Ravens' style of offense. Stafford likely won't want to take many risks. It could be a big day for Baltimore's pass rush.
As good as the Ravens defense has been, it's about to get even better. The return of cornerback Marlon Humphrey this Sunday, paired with the improving health of safety Marcus Williams, gives Mike Macdonald a bounty of weapons to deploy. Especially given the conditions, the defense could dominate Sunday.
Gus Edwards only had eight carries in Los Angeles, as rookie Keaton Mitchell led the backfield. That could flip this Sunday considering the rain. A powerful downhill running game with a back who has fumbled five times in 642 career carries sounds like a good bet
The Rams will have a new kicker Sunday with 39-year-old veteran Mason Crosby stepping in after 16 years with the Packers. Let's hope Justin Tucker kicks longer than 16 years in Baltimore and never puts on another uniform. There's no concern on my part about Tucker after his recent misses.
Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Coaches usually try to avoid comparing players, but Ravens Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken twice said Justin Madubuike is a good 'comp to Donald. That's high praise for Madubuike and good preparation for Tyler Linderbaum.
The Ravens are 12-3 in games immediately following the bye under Head Coach John Harbaugh – the league's second-best mark since 2008. That's nothing to sneeze at. There's a variety of reasons for that, including the coaching staff making deft tweaks and getting extra scouting time on the next opponent.
Ravens center Tyler Linderbaum will be tasked with blocking All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The Ravens have a 91% chance of winning the AFC North, per the latest projections. Their 37% odds of a first-round bye are the best in the AFC. Getting a home playoff game as division champs is first priority, but those saying they'd rather not have a bye are wack.