Predictions for Ravens vs. Titans
When the Ravens hosted the Tennessee Titans in Week 11, I contended in Late for Work that it wasn't a revenge game for the Ravens because a regular-season win would not be sufficient payback for a playoff defeat.
As for Sunday's wild-card playoff contest at Tennessee, now that's a revenge game.
Ravens players and coaches have shot down revenge storylines all week, and I don't believe they're any more focused or motivated to beat the Titans than any other opponent. As tight end Mark Andrews said this week, "We're not worried about them; we're worried about us – doing our job."
For Ravens fans, however, there's no doubt a playoff win over the Titans would be sweet, especially after losing to them in overtime this season and seeing players gather on the Ravens' logo during warmups.
The other major subplot for Sunday's contest is whether Lamar Jackson will win his first playoff game after going one-and-done the past two years.
Of the pundits we looked at, 43 of 50 are predicting a Ravens victory. Here's a sample of what they're saying about the game:
For the Ravens to win, Jackson has to exploit one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "This is the Titans' greatest weakness and one Jackson will have to exploit more than he did in the teams' previous two meetings. … Jackson has struggled with Tennessee's approach of crowding the box with small, quick defenders. He threw two interceptions in the Ravens' playoff loss to the Titans last season and another in a Week 11 loss to Tennessee."
CBS Sports' John Breech: "The Titans' biggest weakness on defense is that they have absolutely zero pass-rush. The problem for the Ravens is that Lamar Jackson hasn't shown to be the type of quarterback who can take advantage of that. We've seen guys like Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers pick the Titans apart, but that's not how Jackson plays."
ESPN's Bill Barnwell: "Once again, the game seems to fall on Jackson's shoulders. There are reasons to think he might be up to the challenge. As good as Josh Allen has been, it's Jackson who has posted the league's best QBR over the last five weeks, with a 93.8 mark coming in just ahead of Allen and third-placed Ryan Tannehill. Jackson ranks sixth in play-action QBR over that time frame, and that's the new weak point for this Titans defense. Without a functional pass rush, Tennessee ranks last in the league in both QBR (93.5) and passer rating (140.8) against play-action passes."
The Ravens need to perform better in the red zone against the Titans than they did in the past two meetings.
NFL.com's Mike Giardi: "Jackson has 23 red zone TDs this season (16 pass, 7 rush) and zero interceptions. Looking further back, Jackson has never thrown an INT in the red zone during his NFL career, with a TD-INT ratio of 41:0. In short, Jackson has been a wizard in tighter spaces, except for when he plays the Titans. In their last two matchups — a Week 11 Titans victory in overtime this season and a Titans rout in the divisional round a season ago — Jackson led eight drives into the red zone that generated just two touchdowns, four field goals and a pair of failed fourth-down conversions."
The Ravens are a better team now than the one that faced the Titans in Week 11.
Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer: "The Ravens weren't in the same offensive groove then with Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Marquise Brown as they are now seven weeks later. They also have a decided defensive advantage because of a capable pass rush and deep secondary. The run defense also has shored up of late, which is good for slowing down Derrick Henry."
Pro Football Talk's Chris Simms: "The Titans match up really well with the Ravens, but I'm going with the Ravens because they're hotter and they're playing better right now, and I think they're going to be pissed off and have a little bit more of an edge to them."
Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson: "Everything that has happened in the past … this is a different team. Lamar Jackson is taking the team on his shoulders, he's taking off and running when he needs to, he's throwing the ball well. J.K. Dobbins looks fantastic. Mark Ingram is still there; regardless of how much they use him, he's still the voice. That defense is stepping up and making plays. And regardless of how tough we think [Titans Head Coach Mike] Vrabel was as a player and he is as a coach, [John] Harbaugh has been there and done that. That dude is tough, too."
Ravens getting a lead and controlling the clock are keys to neutralizing Derrick Henry.
NFL Network's Terrell Davis: "The Ravens have to have their offense as their defense, meaning keep Derrick Henry off the field. … As the game wears on, Derrick Henry gets stronger, and so you have to build some type of lead to get the Tennessee Titans out of their game plan of trying to run the football."
While much of the discussion is on containing Henry, Titans WR A.J. Brown is another weapon to be concerned about.
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "Slowing Henry and keeping the Titans' play-action passing game in check are the most important task for the Ravens' defense this week. But as they learned in November, Brown also adds a unique layer to Tennessee's offense. The second-year pro is one of the NFL's best receivers when it comes to running after the catch. And Harbaugh remembers Brown barreling through would-be tacklers on a third-and-10 during the Titans' win in Baltimore in November that turned a short-of-the-sticks completion into a go-ahead 14-yard touchdown. That play propelled Tennessee to a crucial victory and showed evidence of how the team can thrive even when the ball is not in Henry's hands."
The Ravens have the edge because they have the better defense.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "Their defense is much better than the bad unit the Titans put on the field. Lamar Jackson will have a big day to advance the Ravens."
The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon: "The Titans defense is really, really bad. Of the 184 teams that have reached the NFL playoffs since 2006, this year's Titans rank 183rd in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN. Only the 2013 Chargers were worse. Meanwhile, the Ravens offense is red-hot, with quarterback Lamar Jackson flashing his MVP form and the rushing attack delivering knockout performances during this five-game winning streak. Titans coach Mike Vrabel is sure to have another excellent game plan, but that can only do so much this time around."
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer: "Other than Jacksonville, Tennessee might have the worst defense of any team the Ravens will have faced since Week 13. And other than Pittsburgh, the Ravens might have the best run-stopping defensive line of any AFC team in the Titans' path."
|ESPN||9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens||N/A|
|Baltimore Sun||4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens||“[The Ravens are] perfectly positioned to turn the tables on an opponent with significant weaknesses. But the Titans’ stars will make them sweat all the way.” — Childs Walker|
|USA Today||6 of 7 panelists pick Ravens||N/A|
|NFL.com||Ravens 30, Titans 28||“I'm picking the Ravens here because [Lamar] Jackson is still my choice as the best player on the field and I don't want to imagine another offseason of talking about his playoff struggles. But I don't understand the folks saying this matchup sets up well for the Ravens and I don't like the looks of Baltimore as the overwhelming consensus pick. That's underestimating the Titans — and an offense that ranks with any in the NFL — yet again.” — Gregg Rosenthal|
|NFL Network||8 of 9 panelists pick Ravens||N/A|
|Sporting News||Ravens 34, Titans 31||“The Ravens and Titans are playing similar offensive games at the moment, but the Titans' defensive woes catch up to them here.“ — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||4 of 6 panelists pick Ravens||“This time around I think the Ravens get revenge of sorts. Their defense is much better than the bad unit the Titans put on the field. Lamar Jackson will have a big day to advance the Ravens.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||3 of 3 panelists pick Ravens||“The Ravens already have won five straight de facto playoff games. That’s the best way of turning the page on the narrative that they can’t win in the playoffs.” — Mike Florio|
|Sports Illustrated||7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens||N/A|
|Fansided||Titans 30, Ravens 27||“If Lamar Jackson can get into third and short against the league’s worst third-down defense, they win. If not, the Titans have enough firepower to find a way.” — Matt Verderame|
Ravens Coaching Staff Ranked No. 2 Among 14 Playoff Teams
CBS Sports' Jared Dubin ranked the coaching staffs (head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators) among the 14 playoff teams, and the Ravens came in at No. 2.
The only coaching staff ranked ahead of the Ravens was the Kansas City Chiefs' trio of Head Coach Andy Reid (Harbaugh's mentor), Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"The way Harbaugh has adapted his personality and coaching style to his personnel since making the change from Joe Flacco to Jackson is remarkable, and should be emulated by other coaches whose teams experienced similarly dramatic changes," Durbin wrote.
Durbin also had high praise for Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
"I'm still sort of flabbergasted that neither Roman nor Martindale was hired for a head coaching job last offseason. To think it might happen again this offseason is just wild, considering the success they have had," Durbin wrote. "Roman and the Baltimore offense went through a bit of a lull during the first half of this season, but have been firing on all cylinders again for a while now. He does an incredible job leveraging Lamar Jackson's skill set, and the design of his running-game schemes has long been among the best in the league.
"Martindale might be the NFL's most underrated coordinator, having built an elite unit whose versatility and aggressiveness is nearly unrivaled in the league at the moment. It helps to have elite talent, to be sure, but the way he weaponizes it is something to be envied."
Meanwhile, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranked Harbaugh and Jackson the sixth-best coach-QB combo in the playoffs. He gave Harbaugh a B grade and Jackson a B-plus.
"Harbaugh is a Mr. Fix-it on the sidelines; the one-time Super Bowl winner possesses an uncanny ability to get his team to play its best football down the stretch," Brooks wrote. "The Ravens have streaked into the playoffs in each of the past three seasons behind an innovative, smash-mouth offense and suffocating defense.
"Jackson acts as the team's spark plug, an electric dual-threat playmaker with the potential to put points on the board from anywhere on the field. The third-year pro is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple seasons of 2,500-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing yards. Although he must prove to the football world that he can win a playoff game, the reigning MVP is a nightmare to defend on the perimeter."
No disrespect to any of the coach-QB combos ranked ahead of Harbaugh and Jackson, but No. 6 seems a little low for a Super Bowl-winning coach with a .620 win percentage and 10 playoff victories, and a quarterback who is 30-7 (.811) as a starter and was only the second unanimous league MVP in history.
Ravens Select Defensive End in Todd McShay's First Mock Draft
ESPN's Todd McShay released his first mock draft, and he has the Ravens selecting Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye with the 26th-overall pick (the final draft order will be determined by what happens in the postseason).
"Can Baltimore bring back Yannick Ngakoue? Will it re-sign Matthew Judon and Jihad Ward? What does Calais Campbell, who will be 35 in September, have left in the tank? It might not seem like a problem now, but the edge could be something for the Ravens to target in order to maintain a strength," McShay wrote.
"Paye needs some time to develop, but he had 8.5 sacks over his past 16 games in college, and he could pivot to 3-4 outside linebacker. If not the edge, watch for the Ravens to look at the interior offensive line, potentially Ohio State's Wyatt Davis."