Pundits Believe Ravens Are Dangerous Enough to Win It All
Since the Ravens' playoff win against the Tennessee Titans, the narrative has shifted in their favor.
They've gone from a team that some pundits questioned could win a playoff game to a team many believe is now dangerous enough to make a deep run.
"I could cop out here and say something like, 'Every team that is left is dangerous at this point,' and that is technically true," ESPN's Dan Graziano said. "But Baltimore presents unique challenges, since no team has a more potentially dominant, game-controlling run game and no team can really simulate Jackson's speed and elusiveness in the practice week.
"The Ravens have won six games in a row by an average of 17 points. And while the only two playoff teams they've faced in that stretch are the Browns (who came within a whisker of beating them) and of course the Titans, the team is playing with the same kind of confidence and swagger it carried throughout Jackson's 2019 MVP season. … The Ravens might not be as good as the Chiefs or Bills on paper, but they're not going to be any fun for either of those teams to play."
While you can't look too far ahead, ESPN's Football Power Index predicts the most likely AFC Championship scenario would be a matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens. That would put Baltimore one win away from the Super Bowl.
"I picked Baltimore to go to the Super Bowl before the season started," Fox Sports Radio’s Rob Parker said. "I really like where they are. They've come a long way. … It's been a remarkable turnaround."
The Ravens are peaking at the right time and playing their best football on both sides of the ball. We talked about the narrative that they're the team nobody wanted to face coming into the postseason, and pundits have reiterated that Baltimore's path to a potential Super Bowl revolves around Jackson.
"It was the type of complete performance that makes Jackson and the Ravens look like a legitimate Super Bowl threat, but things are only going to get tougher from here," SB Nation wrote about the win over the Titans. "Allen and a tough Bills defense are waiting next week in a matchup of two of the brightest young quarterbacks in the league. While Jackson will deservedly get most of the attention, he'll need to get another sublime performance from his defense that just smothered the Titans."
The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon added: "The reigning MVP has been nearly unstoppable since his return from a bout with COVID-19, completing 67.7% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 566 yards and five touchdowns during the Ravens' six-game winning streak. He got his first playoff victory in style Sunday, becoming the fourth-youngest quarterback to lead a double-digit comeback in NFL postseason history, according to ESPN."
Defensive Success Centers Around Stopping Josh Allen
It may seem obvious to say that the Ravens' defensive success is centered around stopping Bills quarterback Josh Allen, but that's what NFL Network's David Carr believes it boils down to.
Carr looked at one way each defense can exploit their opponent in the divisional round, and for the Ravens, it's making the third-year quarterback try to do it all.
"He's improved every aspect of his game over the last year and has been a huge part of why the Bills are in this position," Carr wrote. "He's even a deserving MVP candidate. But I see a lot of Brett Favre in Allen. It's a blessing and a curse.
"Allen has the ability to make every dynamic play in the book (and he's made a lot of them), but sometimes his tendency to do too much bites him in the butt. … Is Allen going to make a play that costs the Bills the game? I hope the Bills' season doesn't end that way, but it's certainly possible."
Allen was put in that position during the wild-card round against the Indianapolis Colts. He threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns, and also led the Bills with 54 rushing yards. With rookie running back Zack Moss out for the rest of the postseason, the weight will continue to fall on Allen to carry the Bills offense.
"I think Jackson will have more opportunities in the run game and play that off the pass, whereas Allen will have to do everything on his own," NFL Network's Marc Ross said. "We've seen him do that and carry the Bills in some big-time games this year … but I definitely think it plays into the Ravens' favor where they know the Bills will have to be one-dimensional throwing the ball."
The Ravens defense faced a similar test last week and made the Titans one-dimensional. Derrick Henry was held to 40 yards and 2.2 yards per carry. That forced Tennessee to rely on Ryan Tannehill, who finished with just 165 passing yards and a touchdown.
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit held Allen to 146 yards through the air in the regular-season matchup last year, but the biggest difference for the Bills is the addition of Stefon Diggs. What they may lack in the running game has been made up for by one of the NFL's best receivers.
"Martindale made the Titans a one-dimensional offense and it worked," Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler added. "Should you fear Allen more than Tannehill? Absolutely. Should the Bills worry about what the Baltimore defense can bring at them? You better believe it.
"The best-case scenario for the Ravens is that Marlon Humphrey can slow down Diggs and Marcus Peters and the rest of the secondary are ready to fare well in their matchups as well. Even in this best-case scenario, Martindale has to be ready for the possible X-factors. Maybe it's Allen taking off and making plays on the ground. Maybe, it's Devin Singletary making plays as a receiver. Perhaps it's a trick play or two."
Gus Edwards Named a Playoff X-Factor
"The reason is quite simple," Knox wrote. "Edwards remains a vital but often overshadowed member of Baltimore's rushing attack.
"... Edwards routinely has an impact on games despite a somewhat limited role. The 6'1", 238-pound ball-carrier is capable of physically punishing defenses. This can be especially effective when teams go with smaller personnel groups to try matching the speed and elusiveness of Jackson."
Edwards averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the win over the Titans and could be in store for a big game on Saturday. Buffalo allowed 119.6 rushing yards per game in the regular season, and allowed 163 yards to the Colts in the wild-card round.
"The Ravens could rely on Edwards often against the Bills in the divisional round," Knox wrote. "Keeping Allen and the Buffalo [offense] off the field will presumably be part of the strategy, and the Bills rank just 26th in yards per carry allowed."
Edge Rusher Becoming Popular First-Round Choice for Ravens in Mock Drafts
With draft season right around the corner, this is the time where mock drafts start popping up everywhere. It's still too early to tell what will happen (the draft order isn't even set), but pundits do their best to predict where college football's top players will land.
The Athletic's Dane Brugler released his latest mock draft and has the Ravens selecting Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai with the 28th pick.
"An outside linebacker/edge rusher might not be the Ravens' biggest offseason need, but it's probably the position with the most uncertainty for Baltimore," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Of the Ravens' top six current edge rushers, only one of them, 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, is under contract beyond this season. And the Ravens still don't know what they have in Ferguson, who has 4.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has recently been a healthy scratch on game days."
Ossai has been a popular name linked to the Ravens at the end of the first round. He was named a consensus All-American during his junior season, registering 55 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and five sacks.
"Whoever gets Ossai in this draft is going to fall in love with him quickly," The Athletic's Max Olson wrote. "He's a freaky talent as a pass rusher and a versatile defender who's always making plays because he's got one heck of a motor.
"What made him so good? His coaches rave about his high-motor play and how he constantly went full-speed in practice with no off switch. Former Texas coach Tom Herman would say Ossai 'plays his ever-loving you-know-what off' in a way that reminded him of coaching Ed Oliver, another first-rounder. He played through a shoulder injury during that Oklahoma State game and you wouldn't know it based on his effort level."
Zrebiec acknowledged that the Ravens should have the flexibility to bring back at least one of Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, or Tyus Bowser, who are impending free agents this offseason. That still presents the need for another pass rusher in the rotation.
"The Ravens have only drafted two first-round edge rushers in franchise history: Peter Boulware in 1997 and Terrell Suggs in 2003," Zrebiec added. "Both were home run picks. … The time feels right, though, for them to take a shot at a Day 1 edge rusher who could come in and make an immediate impact. Ossai would fill a need both in the present and future."