Pundits Believe Titans Are Best Matchup for Ravens
After last year's playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, you couldn't write the script any better for a rematch.
The Ravens came into Sunday with the potential to face four different opponents if they clinched a playoff berth against the Cincinnati Bengals. Now the Ravens get another crack at the team that has beaten them in their last two matchups.
Even with that, pundits believe the Titans were the best matchup for Baltimore in the wild-card round.
"This is the matchup Ravens fans should want," NBC Sports’ Andrew Gillis wrote. "The Titans have by far the worst defense on this list, and with the Ravens' offense improving each week, that could present matchup problems for the Titans who have allowed Baker Mayfield and Aaron Rodgers to handle them with relative ease.
"Coach Mike Vrabel will certainly have a plan for Lamar Jackson if the two meet, and [Derrick] Henry, paired with wideouts A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, aren't fun matchups to deal with. But if the Ravens are healthy in the secondary, they should leave Nashville with a win. It wouldn't hurt the Ravens to avenge last year's playoff loss, either."
Pundits believe the Ravens can exploit a Titans defense that's allowed 394.4 total yards per game and 122.5 rushing yards per game this season. Since Tennessee's overtime win against Baltimore in Week 11, they've allowed opponents to score 25 points or more in four of their last six regular-season games.
"Tennessee is more of a pick-your-poison team than the one that won in Baltimore last year," NBC Sports’ Peter King wrote. "For the Ravens, one of the most prolific rushing games in history (403 yards in Cincinnati) is a preview of how I think they'll play this one. I'll be surprised if Baltimore doesn't try to play keep-away and run it 60 percent of the snaps."
On the other hand, the Ravens are finding their groove offensively. They rushed for a franchise-record 404 yards in the win over the Bengals. The combination of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Mark Ingram II have steamrolled opposing defenses.
"The Titans narrowly defeated the Ravens back in Week 11, but they should not at all be eager for a rematch," Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox wrote. "With Jackson returning to MVP form, Baltimore is capable of fielding a balanced offensive attack, which Tennessee has struggled against.
"... A Titans-Baltimore game could turn into a run-heavy back-and-forth shootout. While that isn't necessarily ideal for any team in the postseason, it could be downright disastrous for the Titans."
In Week 11, the Ravens held a 21-16 lead with 2:18 left in the fourth quarter before Brown broke free from multiple defenders to score on a 14-yard touchdown. Then Henry won it for the Titans in overtime with a 29-yard touchdown run.
Despite the threat of Henry, Brown, and the Tennessee offense, a vulnerable unit on the other side of the ball gives pundits confidence in a Ravens team that's peaking at the right time.
"Baltimore just keeps on winning with its style, maturing from a team that was more concerned about outsmarting the opponent and becoming one that stubbornly -- and effectively -- sticks to what it does best: Run the football," NFL.com’s Nick Shook wrote. "Baltimore has proven in the last month it can and will exert its will on opposing defenses, and it's up to the opposition to stop the run and contain Jackson. No one has done it since Week 11 (Jackson missed Week 12), and it has propelled the Ravens to a great position as a wild-card team with a chance to make a deep run."
New Year and a Different Playoff Feel
Along with the opportunity to exploit a vulnerable defense, Press Box’s Bo Smolka believes the Ravens are entering the playoffs this season with a different feel.
"At this time last year, the Ravens had won 12 games in a row and eased into the playoffs by resting starters in Week 17 with their No. 1 AFC seeding secure," Smolka wrote. "They knew a first-round bye awaited. This year, the Ravens have been in playoff mode for more than a month, knowing any loss would most likely scuttle their postseason hopes.
"... [T]he Ravens have been dominant for a month now. Even though that 2019 team ended on a 12-game winning streak, the momentum of this team feels different. The sense of urgency has been different. … This is a dangerous team now, in a different way than last year's was, and John Harbaugh's team has a long history of postseason success on the road. Jackson's 0-2 playoff record is sure to be the defining narrative this week, but no team can feel too comfortable seeing the Ravens coming to town the way they are playing right now."
Historically, we've seen the Ravens perform well in the postseason when they're playing the underdog role. That's the feel as they enter the playoffs.
"After last year's flameout, every question is an important one, every hurdle a little more imposing," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "No, the 2020 Ravens are not the 2019 Ravens. And maybe that's a good thing."
The Ravens started the season as one of the NFL's top teams at 5-1, but ran into obstacles. They lost key players to injuries and suffered through a COVID-19 outbreak. Following three straight losses midway through the season, the playoffs were in question.
Now, they are riding a five-game winning streak with momentum on their side. The consensus among pundits continues to be that Baltimore is the team that no one else wants to see.
"Remember earlier in the season when fans across the country were ready to write off the Baltimore Ravens as serious contenders to win the AFC and get to the Super Bowl?" Fansided’s Braulio Perez wrote. "Well, those folks are surely feeling a bit silly now.
"Now, Baltimore will enter the postseason at 11-5, having won their last five games of the regular season. No one will want to meet the Ravens in the playoffs because they're really looking unstoppable right now."
Lamar Jackson Continues Historic Red-Zone Dominance
For all of the criticism that Lamar Jackson gets, he continues to let his play do the talking.
On Sunday, Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, but he also became the first quarterback to throw for 46 red-zone touchdowns without an interception.
"Jackson's best pass of the day might have been his 9-yard touchdown throw to [Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown, which underscored Jackson's success in the red zone," Smolka wrote. "Jackson rolled to his right, and as a 1,000-yard rusher, he of course drew the attention of defenders. Jackson eluded the rush and waited patiently as Brown, lined up on the left side, crossed the entire length of the field. Then Jackson led Brown with a pass to the back corner of the end zone that Brown secured for a 31-3 lead.
"Overall this year, the Ravens scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their red-zone trips. In the four losses in which Jackson played, their red-zone success rate was 43.8 percent. For a deep playoff run — or even a playoff win — the Ravens will need to produce when they get close, as they did on Jackson's throw to Brown in this game."
J.K. Dobbins Hopes to Set His Mark Among the NFL's Best
Before a career-best performance, Dobbins sat down with CBS Sports' Evan Washburn to discuss the players who've inspired him.
"When I was in high school, I watched a lot of guys like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Saquon [Barkley], Zeke [Elliott]," Dobbins said. "I was like, 'I want to be one of those guys … just a legend.'"
Transitioning from the star running back at Ohio State to a rookie in the NFL, Dobbins told Washburn that he had to learn patience this season. He's now become one of the lead backs for the Ravens, and rushed for a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Bengals.
So far, so good for making his mark in the NFL.
"I]t was a group effort, but this time the starring presence in this game was undoubtedly Dobbins,” [Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote. "Dobbins has been stellar for several weeks now but tapped into a new peak in the regular season finale. The rookie sensation turned 13 carries into a career-high 160 rushing yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 72-yard score late in the third quarter.
"Dobbins' previous season-best came in Week 8 against the Steelers, where he rushed for 113 yards, but he blew that out of the water on Sunday. Prior to his game-breaking touchdown, Dobbins had two rushes of 22 and 27 yards earlier, too, further evidencing his big-play ability."
- "The best news for the Ravens was their improving health," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "Peters moved well in his first week back, and veteran defensive end Calais Campbell again looked fitter as he put a lingering calf injury behind him. After the game, Harbaugh said the Ravens could have cornerback Jimmy Smith and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue back for their playoff opener, which would nearly fill their defensive cupboard. That's no small thing after so many weeks of daunting injury reports. The Ravens will need all their bodies against a Titans offense that wore them down."
- "If Mark Andrews, Brown and Boykin can consistently provide what they did today — possession work from Andrews, a deep pass and typically-solid blocking from Boykin and quick-hitters and touchdowns by Brown, that can work if they can keep the running game on the tracks," Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote.
- Justin Tucker made Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro roster.
- "Patrick Queen had one of his best games against the run, finishing with two run-game tackles and a stop on just 30 total snaps," PFF’s Steve Palazzolo wrote.