Late for Work 12/23: Pundits Believe Jackson Is Regaining His MVP Form

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QB Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson Is Regaining His MVP Form

Lamar Jackson wasn't one of the seven Ravens selected for the Pro Bowl this season, but you can make the argument that he's playing some of his best football right now.

At least that's what NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala believes after Sunday's 40-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"[Jackson] has regained his MVP form," Kinkhabwala said. "His teammates are clearly bleeding off of that. Since he went on the [Reserve/COVID-19] list, he's had ten touchdowns. He was dynamic … this offense had no troubles. And as John Harbaugh said, he wants his team to be playing its best football in December. You can argue they are getting there."

She's not the only one. There was plenty of talk about Jackson's play after one of the best performances of his young career in the Week 15 win over the Cleveland Browns. He followed it up going 17-of-22 for 243 passing yards and four total touchdowns against Jacksonville.

A big reason why pundits believe Jackson is playing at an MVP level is because he's beating defenses with his arm and legs. During the Ravens' three game winning streak, Jackson has thrown six touchdowns and ran for four more.

The Ravens offense, which has struggled at times this season, is clicking when Jackson is playing at his best.

"[A]fter returning from a Week 12 absence on the COVID-19 list, Jackson has helped turn this Baltimore offense into something more closely resembling the unstoppable buzzsaw we saw in 2019," The Ringer's Danny Kelly wrote. "Over the past three weeks, the Ravens beat the Cowboys, Browns, and the Jaguars (a 40-14 romp on Sunday), averaging an NFL-best 40.3 points per game. Jackson has returned to his MVP-caliber form, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 513 yards, six touchdowns, and two picks in those games while averaging 9.16 yards per attempt and tallying a 120.6 passer rating. He's added 253 yards and four scores on the ground.

"And maybe most importantly, he seems to have resurrected that unmistakable pep-in-his-step kind of a guy who knows he can juke the socks off just about any defender on the field. He's picking up explosive plays with his feet. He's finding Brown downfield for big gains. And he looks like he's having fun again. (It doesn't hurt either that he's getting a little bit of help from J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and even veteran Dez Bryant, who scored his first touchdown since 2017 in the win on Sunday.)"

Power Rankings: Confidence Building as Ravens Make a Playoff Push

The Ravens are playing some of their best football, and confidence continues to build in the latest power rankings. Baltimore continues to rise, moving up at least one spot in five of the six publications we looked at this week.

In Monday's edition of Late for Work, some pundits talked about the possibility of the Ravens being a dangerous team if they can reach the playoffs. Now we're starting to see more and more of that discourse.

"The Ravens have won three straight games and suddenly look like a major player in the AFC playoffs – if they get there, of course," NFL.com's Dan Hanzus wrote. "The Browns, Colts and Dolphins all also won on Sunday, keeping Baltimore locked into the eighth seed for the time being. Don't let them in, AFC. Consider this your warning."

"With the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals left on the regular-season schedule, the Ravens are in good shape to make the playoffs again," BR wrote. "And the beating that they laid on the Jaguars sent a notice to the rest of the AFC that no one should want to face them in the first round."

The Ravens made the biggest jump this week in USA Today's rankings, moving from No. 10 to No. 6. They also jumped up three spots in ESPN, NFL.com, and Bleacher Report's rankings.

Sports Illustrated was the only publication that didn't move up the Ravens after their win over the Jaguars. In fact, they moved back one spot, likely because SI has had a rotating group of authors for their power rankings each week.

SI's Albert Breer expressed similar confidence in the Ravens as we've seen from other pundits.

"It seems like coming out of their COVID outbreak, the Ravens have rediscovered their identity, and Lamar Jackson is running and working the ball around more efficiently," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote. "And this time, Baltimore will head into January as the hunter, rather than the hunted."

The Ravens can't clinch a playoff berth even if they win their final two regular season games, but the confidence comes in the fact that ESPN's Football Power Index still gives them an 87.7 chance of reaching the postseason.

Table inside Article
Source Ranking Last Week's Ranking Comments
ESPN No. 7 No. 10
NFL.com No. 5 No. 8 “The Ravens have won three straight games and suddenly look like a major player in the AFC playoffs … Don't let them in, AFC. Consider this your warning.”
Bleacher Report No. 7 No. 10 “With the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals left on the regular-season schedule, the Ravens are in good shape to make the playoffs again. And the beating that they laid on the Jaguars sent a notice to the rest of the AFC that no one should want to face them in the first round.”
USA Today No. 6 No. 10
Sports Illustrated No. 10 No. 9 “It seems like coming out of their COVID outbreak, the Ravens have rediscovered their identity, and Lamar Jackson is running and working the ball around more efficiently. And this time, Baltimore will head into January as the hunter, rather than the hunted.”
CBS Sports No. 9 No. 10 “Here come the Ravens. The schedule is favorable and they will be a dangerous playoff team if they get in.”

Colin Cowherd Revisits His Ravens 16-0 Prediction

There was plenty of hype surrounding the Ravens in the offseason, but no one might have a bigger supporter than Fox Sports Radio's Colin Cowherd.

Back in June, Cowherd said it wouldn't be ridiculous if the Ravens went 16-0 during the regular season.

"Baltimore is the first team maybe I've ever thought … I'm starting to think they're going to go 16-0," Cowherd said on "The Herd." " … Cincinnati's got a rookie quarterback, Cleveland's got a rookie coach, and Pittsburgh has an old quarterback off an injury. Baltimore is a rare team for me. I think it is very possible they steamroll Cleveland [in Week 1], and they just start rolling and they don't slow down. … We may be looking at a 16-0 football team, and I don't think it's crazy."

Fast forward six months and Cowherd revisited his prediction with a different spin.

"I could've predicted 14-2, but I thought it was more fun to go 16-0 because you guys would all freak out," Cowherd said.

It's fair to question how realistic that prediction would have been for any team, let alone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the Kansas City Chiefs, who many consider to be the NFL's top team, have lost a game and had other close calls. The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost three straight after starting 11-0.

It's all about teams getting hot at the right time and the Ravens are heating up with three straight wins. In the eyes of pundits like CBS NFL analyst Charles Davis, that makes Baltimore a dangerous team.

"If Baltimore jumps in there and gets one of the last spots … it wouldn't surprise me and I think Baltimore is the team that you don't want to get into the playoffs if you have to play them," Davis said. "They're the one that you're kind of hoping, if they get left home, 'I'm good'. Not that you don't respect the others because you do but Baltimore is just a whole different animal trying to run around chasing Lamar and it feels to me like they're getting their mojo back.

"They're the team that you're like 'ahhhh shoot'. Their record won't be nearly as good as it was last year. But if they get in, it almost feels like they could be more dangerous."

Mock Draft Has Ravens Adding First Round Edge Rusher

With the end of the regular season nearing, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller released his latest 2021 mock draft. In the first round, Miller has the Ravens selecting Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai.

"A big-bodied wide receiver would be nice, but the value is not there, and with Kyle Pitts off the board, the Ravens will be more likely to wait until Round 2 to address the position," Miller wrote. "What they can do is grab a high-potential pass-rusher with the length, speed and power to be a perfect match for the defense."

Ossai was one of the best linebackers in college football this season and was named to ESPN's All-American Team. He finished his junior season with five sacks and led the Big 12 in tackles for loss (16).

Edge rusher is a particularly interesting group for the Ravens because they'll have key decisions to make at the position at the end of the season.

Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser, and Pernell McPhee are slated to become unrestricted free agents. Jalen Ferguson is the only edge rusher on the roster under contract through next season.

At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, pundits believe Ossai can be an impact edge defender for an NFL team.

"There is no off switch on Ossai," Fansided's Cory Kinnan wrote. "From whistle-to-whistle, for the full 60 minutes, the entirety of the season; Ossai is full go all the time. He is the type of player that coaches will love to take under their wing as he has a sky-high work ethic and is dedicated to his craft. Ossai is an explosive athlete, and he puts it on display as he has a quick first step, and has no issue converting speed-to-power."

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