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Late for Work 1/7: Confidence in Ravens Remains High Heading Into Divisional Round


There's no denying the Tennessee Titans were impressive Saturday in knocking the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots out of the playoffs in Foxborough in an AFC wild-card game. I think bruising running back Derrick Henry just broke a few more tackles for another 10-yard gain.

However, confidence in the top-seeded Ravens remains high. They opened as double-digit favorites (in Vegas) over the sixth-seeded Titans for Saturday night's divisional round game at M&T Bank Stadium and remain the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

In fact, the Ravens' chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy rose slightly in ESPN's Power Football Index and with oddsmakers.

SB Nation’s Geoff Schwartz has the Ravens at No. 1 in his confidence rankings ahead of this weekend's games.

"The Ravens easily remain here. They are one of the best teams Football Outsiders has ever charted," Schwartz wrote. "They can do it all, and while I was on the fence about them for the first half of the season, it's hard to deny where they are now. Their defense has made the biggest jump from the start of the season until now. They are a dominating unit that loves to bring pressure.

"Offensively, we know what they are about: Running the ball straight at you. Lamar Jackson is accurate in the play-action pass game. The only concern I see is the Ravens coming out rusty, but since they are a run-based offense, I don't think that happens."

Despite the Titans being one of the best teams in the league during the second half of the season and their statement-making win over the Patriots, Schwartz ranked them seventh among the eight teams still alive in the playoffs.

"The Titans won in New England because the Patriots' offense was awful," Schwartz wrote. "I don't think the Titans did anything special on defense to stop the Patriots.

"Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards on 34 carries, plus added another long reception on a screen pass. And guess what? The Titans scored 14 points on offense. That's not beating the Ravens. The Titans will need Ryan Tannehill to produce better than what he did against the Patriots — 8 of 15 for 72 yards, a touchdown, and a terrible interception — to win in Baltimore."

It goes without saying that the Ravens and Head Coach John Harbaugh couldn't care less about odds and confidence rankings. They haven't underestimated any opponent all season and they certainly aren't going to start now as they sit three games away from achieving their ultimate goal.

As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, pundits believe Tennessee upsetting the Ravens isn't as far-fetched as their respective seeds would suggest.

"They're capable of beating anybody right now," "Good Morning Football's" Kyle Brandt said. "I look at Derrick Henry as the classic hottest player in the tournament right now. … I do think he can run up in Baltimore and shock them."

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec also sees the Titans as a dangerous opponent for the Ravens.

"They are hot, having won eight of their past 11 games since Ryan Tannehill took the reins of the offense from Marcus Mariota," Zrebiec wrote. "That includes four straight victories on the road. They've embraced the underdog role and are following the lead of a hard-driving, disciplined Head Coach in Mike Vrabel.

"The Titans will want to set the tone with their running game, extend possessions, control the clock and finish in the red zone. Those will precisely be the Ravens' goals. It's what makes it such an interesting matchup, and a dangerous one for the top-seeded Ravens."

Remembering the Titans and Ravens

The Pittsburgh Steelers are undeniably the Ravens' chief rival, but back in the days of the AFC Central, that distinction belonged to the Titans. What longtime Ravens fan could ever forget former Head Coach Brian Billick's impassioned speech about going into Tennessee "screaming like a banshee?"

The Ravens and Titans have a playoff history with each other, as well. Saturday's game will mark the fourth time Baltimore and Tennessee have met in the postseason. The Ravens have won two of the three previous matchups, with the road team prevailing on each occasion.

As our own Garrett Downing pointed out, past Ravens-Titans games were old-school slugfests, and this one figures to be no different.

Here's a look back at the Ravens-Titans playoff games, per Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz:

Jan. 7, 2001: Ravens 24, Titans 10 (divisional round): "With the score tied at 10 early in the fourth quarter, Ravens defensive end Keith Washington blocked his second kick of the game. Defensive back Anthony Mitchell scooped the ball and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Later in the game's final quarter, Ray Lewis intercepted [Titans quarterback Steve] McNair at midfield and scampered for a 50-yard touchdown that sealed a win fueled by defense and special teams. Three weeks later, Baltimore hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy after a playoff run in which its defense scored more touchdowns (two) than it allowed (one)."

Jan. 3, 2004: Titans 20, Ravens 17 (wild-card round): "Near the end of a seesawing game, the Titans took possession at their own 37-yard line with the score tied at 17. McNair completed all four of his passes on a drive that stretched 38 yards and set up Gary Anderson for a game-winning 46-yard field goal with 33 seconds left on the clock."

Jan. 10, 2009: Ravens 13, Titans 10 (divisional round): "In John Harbaugh's first season as Ravens coach, he took rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and his team into Tennessee for a divisional round game. … Just like in the previous two postseason matchups between these teams, the game veered into the fourth quarter with the score tied. It was 10-10 when the Ravens took possession at their own 24-yard line with a little more than four minutes remaining. A steady dose of runs from Willis McGahee and a 23-yard completion from Flacco to tight end Todd Heap positioned Matt Stover for a go-ahead 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds left."

Ravens Involved in Two of Top Three Potential Super Bowl Matchups’s Marc Sessler ranked the five Super Bowl LIV matchups he'd most like to see. Not surprisingly, a meeting between the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, the top seed in the NFC, was No. 1.

"[Lamar Jackson] is the finest thing happening in football -- an MVP-worthy, one-man wrecking crew defenses can't solve despite the mountain of game tape he's produced. When that gridiron film glows over enemy projectors, it's nothing short of a slasher pic for soon-to-be fried coordinators attempting to slow down Jackson and Baltimore's historically romp-heavy ground game," Sessler wrote.

"The Jimmy Garoppolo-led Niners would serve as ideal foils, fueled by Superman tight end George Kittle and a coach in Kyle Shanahan who might be the league's greatest play-caller. San Francisco's current roster shares minimal DNA with the one that fell to the Ravens [in Super Bowl XLVII], but the city and its fans have not forgotten. And these two teams locked horns in a highly intriguing game earlier this season, with Baltimore eking out a 20-17 win at home. What's not to like about the two best squads tangling on the final Sunday of the 100th NFL season?"

An all-purple Super Bowl pitting the Ravens against the Minnesota Vikings was Sessler's third-favorite matchup.

"In this scenario, I foresee a troubled fate for Baltimore," Sessler wrote. "In the same way Flacco dropped a nuclear bomb on his critics by guiding that old Ravens team to glory in 2012, this story would star Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's folksy passer isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the concept of Cousins slaying a pair of NFC heavies before toppling the uber-dangerous Ravens is the stuff of football legend."

Key Ravens Who Might Not Return in 2020

Under first-year Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta, the team has signed eight players to contract extensions (including four during the season), but one of the harsh realities of the NFL in the salary cap era is that there's going to be some degree of turnover on the roster every season.

With that in mind, Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens identified nine key players who could be playing their final games in a Ravens uniform:

OLB Matthew Judon: "We got a taste of how bad the business side of football can be in the offseason when the Ravens saw C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs all leave in free agency for huge deals. Make no mistake about it, Judon is a player likely entering a very similar situation if they let him become a free agent."

CB Jimmy Smith: "Though Smith has shown he can still be a starting-caliber cornerback in this league, he wouldn't have that primary role with the Ravens having both [Marcus] Peters and Marlon Humphrey in 2020."

DT Michael Pierce: "With the resurgence of powerful rushing attacks in the NFL this season, plenty of teams will be looking for a space-eating defensive tackle who can get upfield and make big plays in the backfield. And that's exactly what you get with Pierce."

LB Patrick Onwuasor: "If Onwuasor gets some interest in free agency and a chance to start for another team, the Ravens probably wouldn't be able to match."

G Marshal Yanda: "Yanda will have a starting spot on Baltimore's offensive line as long as he wants to play, and he's signed through the 2020 season. But Yanda will be turning 36 years old next season and simply might not want to go through another season, especially if the Ravens win Super Bowl LIV."

QB Robert Griffin III: "There are a number of teams in this league that either don't have a starting quarterback signed or could use an upgrade . . . and Griffin could easily be that guy. … However, Griffin isn't a free agent, which would mean another team has to ring the Ravens' phone and make a deal."

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