ESPN Pundits Believe Ravens Are Most Vulnerable Favorite This Weekend
Seven ESPN NFL pundits were asked which underdog is most likely to pull off an upset among this weekend's six wild-card games, and three went with the Tennessee Titans, who are three-point underdogs against the Ravens on Sunday.
ESPN's Mike Clay remembers the Titans defeating the Ravens in the playoffs a year ago and in a regular-season game in November, and he said the same result this time would not be a surprise.
"This weekend, a Titans team that ranked second in the NFL in offensive touchdowns is a home underdog against those very same Ravens. Baltimore leads the NFL in scoring differential and is peaking at the right time, but no one should be surprised if the Titans get the job done for a third straight time," Clay wrote.
Field Yates expressed a similar sentiment.
"While home-field advantage has been mitigated this season, I'm still optimistic that Tennessee can repeat what it did a year ago in defeating the Ravens again on the back (or legs, I suppose) of Derrick Henry," Yates wrote. "Running back is a position where teams have been able to find reasonable replacement options when needed ... but Derrick Henry is irreplaceable."
There's no denying the Titans' offensive firepower and Henry's ability to take over a game, but Tennessee's defense ranked No. 28 in yards allowed and No. 24 in points allowed. Still, Mina Kimes believes the Titans have a good chance of prevailing Sunday.
"The Titans' defense is the worst in the playoffs, but I think their offense is feisty enough to knock the Ravens — who have faced an easy slate as of late — off their game," Kimes wrote.
Perhaps this makes for good bulletin board material for the Ravens. Or perhaps not. Yesterday, tight end Mark Andrews discounted the notion that the Ravens need any extra motivation.
"This team is already extremely motivated and hungry, and [there is] a fire under us," Andrews said. "If you're not, and it takes that to get you going, then you're kind of doing the wrong thing."
Dan Graziano had a starkly different opinion about the outcome of the Ravens-Titans game than his ESPN colleagues. He predicted the Ravens to win by double digits.
"Tennessee plays basically no defense whatsoever," Graziano wrote. "Baltimore is coming off a 400-yard rushing game. The Ravens feel good about where their offense is right now, and they should be able to get up on the porous Titans D early and run the game the way they want to run it. It doesn't hurt that Baltimore's secondary is as healthy as it has been in a while."
On a side note, ESPN's Jamison Hensley pointed out that recent history suggests being a favorite on wild-card weekend isn't necessarily a good thing.
Is Lamar Jackson Still the Best Quarterback of the 2018 Draft Class?
Three of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft are playing this weekend: Cleveland's Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall), Buffalo's Josh Allen (No. 7) and Lamar Jackson (No. 32). So which is the best?
After being named the second unanimous NFL MVP in history in 2019, Jackson was the obvious answer at this time a year ago. Allen, however, has taken a huge jump this season.
PFF's Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson debated the topic on their podcast, with Palazzolo going with Jackson, and Monson taking Allen.
"If I'm starting a franchise, I think I'm going Lamar Jackson," Palazzolo said. "I'm going Lamar because of the ability to build the run game around him and that opening up the pass game. The same analysis we had coming out holds true, and we saw what he was capable of in his MVP season."
Monsoon not only ranked Allen ahead of Jackson, but he also put Mayfield ahead of the Ravens quarterback.
"I think I would take Baker before I took Lamar Jackson," Monson said. "You said that Jackson brings with you the ability to build the running game around you; I would argue he brings the necessity to build the running game around him. I'm not sure that he functions well just being plugged into a conventional NFL offense the way these other quarterbacks have been put into. I don't think you can do that. I think you have to build a system around Lamar Jackson."
Monson's take raises an obvious question: Why on earth wouldn't a team that drafted Jackson build the offense around his one-of-one skill set? It seems to have worked out pretty well, since he's 30-7 (.811) as a starter and has led the Ravens to the playoffs in all three of his seasons.
Palazzolo also pointed out that Jackson doesn't have the weapons in the passing game that Allen and Mayfield have. Allen's huge jump this season coincided with the Bills trading for standout wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the offseason.
"He's done it without superstars around him," Palazzolo said. "He's had Mark Andrews, great tight end. What does that pass game look like if he has a little bit more at wide receiver? Marquise Brown, pretty good deep threat. What if he had a Stefon Diggs as a deep threat, even if it is a run-first attack that is mostly predicated around Lamar's ability?"
J.K. Dobbins Is a Top-10 Running Back Already
In rookie running back J.K. Dobbins' first six games, he averaged just over four carries and played between 29 percent and 43 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps.
Thanks to a strong second half of the season, however, the second-round pick has earned recognition as one of the best running backs in the league. In addition to being named Pro Football Focus' Rookie of the Week (as noted in yesterday's Late for Work), NFL.com's Maurice Jones-Drew placed Dobbins at No. 10 in his running back rankings.
"The rookie running back deserves a top-10 spot here after the campaign he's had," Jones-Drew wrote. "Dobbins is the only running back to average at least 6.0 yards per carry this season (min. 100 attempts), and he's gained +222 rush yards over expected (fourth-most in the NFL) this season, according to Next Gen Stats. His production in Year 1 speaks volumes about the Ravens' excellent rushing attack as well as Dobbins' explosiveness and ability to break tackles."
Dobbins has scored touchdowns in seven straight games and is coming off his best game of the season, as he rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in the Ravens' 38-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Inside linebacker Patrick Queen placed fifth in Sports Illustrated's Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.