Late for Work 12/31: Stacking Up the Potential Divisional Round Opponents 

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Stacking Up the Potential Divisional Round Opponents

The playoff picture is set, and the Ravens will face the lowest remaining seed from the wild-card round in the divisional round. That leaves three potential opponents: Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec ranked the Ravens' potential AFC playoff opponents from most difficult to most favorable. We're going to focus strictly on the divisional opponents.

1. Buffalo Bills (No. 5 seed)

Biggest Challenge: "The Bills are a physical opponent with a very good defense," Zrebiec wrote. "While Josh Allen isn't as dynamic as Lamar Jackson, the Bills can dictate the tempo and control the ball offensively with their Devin Singletary-led run game. … Buffalo's physical style and quality defense figures to make the Bills a tough out in January."

Biggest Weakness: "The Ravens' aggressiveness and in-depth defensive schemes seemed to bother Allen, who missed several big-play opportunities throughout the game," Zrebiec wrote. "Allen has shown significant improvement, but he's not in the same class as other potential AFC quarterback opponents, like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The Bills have a few quality wins, but they lack that signature win against an AFC elite team."

Synopsis: The Bills did one of the best jobs of any team containing Jackson in the run game. Take away Week 1, and Buffalo held Jackson to his lowest rushing total on the season (40 yards). But the Ravens were without leading receiver Mark Andrews for most of the game and still found a way to win. Like the 49ers, Buffalo plays a physical style of football that's matched up well against Baltimore this season.

2. Houston Texans (No. 4 seed)

Biggest Challenge: "The Texans couldn't do anything right in the November matchup in Baltimore, but they stand to make a couple of huge upgrades from a personnel standpoint," Zrebiec wrote. "Star defensive end J.J. Watt is expected to return from a torn pectoral muscle in time for the playoffs and the Texans also could get back explosive wide receiver Will Fuller, who wasn't able to go against the Ravens. [Watson] looked confused and overwhelmed in his last appearance at M&T Bank Stadium, but he's too good to play like that again."

Biggest Weakness: "For much of that first meeting, it was a total mismatch," Zrebiec wrote. "Would a few Texans' roster additions make up the 34-point difference? Houston's defense has not been good, ranking 27th in yards allowed per game. … The Texans' history in the playoffs under Bill O'Brien is pretty underwhelming. Houston has also been prone to a few head-scratching performances."

Synopsis: The Week 11 matchup was one of the Ravens' most lopsided wins of the season. The Ravens held Watson to 169 passing yards and racked up a season-high seven sacks. Meanwhile, Baltimore ran all over Houston for 256 yards. That's the Texans' biggest weakness, and even if Mark Ingram II isn't 100 percent, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill have shown they can carry the load.

3. Tennessee Titans (No. 6 seed)

Biggest Challenge: "The Titans have been pretty mercurial this year, but they've shown an ability to play with and beat anybody over the past two years," Zrebiec wrote "… The insertion of veteran Ryan Tannehill at quarterback has made a big difference and running back Derrick Henry is the type of tone setter teams need in January."

Biggest Weakness: "Unlike many of the Ravens potential AFC playoff opponents, the Titans also haven't seen Jackson this year, which presents a definite challenge in trying to simulate the quarterback's speed and athleticism," Zrebiec wrote. "Tannehill has played well, but can he beat a quality defense in January if [Derrick] Henry is held in check?"

Synopsis: As Zrebiec noted, the Titans are the only AFC playoff team the Ravens haven't faced this season. We've seen teams try to mimic Jackson's skill set with little success, which would give Greg Roman and the offense a distinct advantage. Henry, the NFL's leading rusher, isn't the only offensive weapon to worry about. Rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown has had at least 100 or more receiving yards in four of the last six games and topped 1,000 yards this season.

ESPN's Trey Wingo Shockingly Leaves John Harbaugh Off Coach of the Year List

What more can John Harbaugh do?

The Ravens finished with the best record in the NFL, earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC, broke long-standing NFL records, and have the MVP front runner at quarterback.

Yet, when ESPN's Trey Wingo listed his Coach of the Year candidates, Harbaugh wasn't even included.

"In an era where the passing game reigns supreme, Harbaugh has weaponized a running attack and built it to fit his personnel," Last Word on Pro Football's Anthony Prohaska wrote. "His 2018 mid-season switch to Jackson from Joe Flacco set the stage. And his end of year appointment of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator furthered his plans.

"Coming into this season, the Ravens were not a Super Bowl favorite. Some pundits even had them finishing with a losing record. Where they stand now is a testament to the direction and coaching of Harbaugh. Furthermore, it's a testament to his ability to reinvent his football team."

WNST's Luke Jones made the argument that the Week 17 win over the Steelers solidified Harbaugh's case. The backups outperformed Pittsburgh's starters in a game the Steelers needed to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

"It would have been easy to coast in a game of no tangible consequence," Jones wrote. "Established veterans who did play could have taken exception to not being anointed as someone valuable enough to hold out. Young players could have lacked focus seeing Jackson and other veteran leaders in street clothes.

"The Ravens not only won, but they flattened a Steelers team that had everything to play for. To perform in such a way without several of their best players should serve as an emphatic period for Harbaugh winning the NFL Coach of the Year award for the first time – in case you needed more convincing."

Jones acknowledged that the award usually caters towards teams that dramatically improve their records from the previous season, like Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. While the Ravens improved four games better from the 2018 season, their improvements on offense are the real argument for Harbaugh's case.

During the offseason, Harbaugh and the Ravens said they were working to invent a "revolutionary" offense around the skill set of Jackson. Since then, Baltimore finished as the NFL's highest-scoring team, ranked second in total yards per game (407.6), and first in rushing yards per game (206).

Trib Live columnist John Steigerwald also believes Harbaugh deserves the award.

"His Ravens are a No. 1 seed, and he took over the league by going against the grain with a run-first offense in a pass-happy league," Steigerwald wrote. "It's amazing it took so long for an NFL coach to have the guts to draft a running quarterback and decide to build his offense around his mobility.

"Harbaugh didn't only do that, he also told the world he would."

Harbaugh definitely has his players' vote. Though they called off the Gatorade bath, Harbaugh was given a game ball after Sunday's win.

Joe Flacco Says He'll Continue His Career as a Backup If Necessary

It wasn't the year former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wanted in his first season in Denver.

He missed the second half of the season because of a neck injury. Flacco won in two of his eight starts, threw six touchdowns to five interceptions, and fumbled eight times.

Yesterday, Broncos President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said it's "unrealistic" to say rookie quarterback Drew Lock won't be the Broncos' starter in 2020.

"Obviously he finished, did a heck of a job, won four out of five games and played well, but he still has a long way to go, he's got a lot of work to do,'' Elway said, per ESPN's Jeff Legwold.

So where does that leave Flacco? The veteran quarterback is determined to continue playing after being placed on injured reserve this season, and is willing to take a backup gig if necessary.

Baltimore still has much to be thankful to Flacco for. His Super Bowl run in 2012 will go down as one of the most memorable moments in franchise history, and of the decade, according to ESPN.

"It was a magical championship run by Flacco, who finished those playoffs with 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "Only Kurt Warner and Joe Montana -- both Hall of Famers -- have thrown as many touchdowns during a single postseason."

Following a wild-card win against the Colts, Flacco did the impossible by taking down two future first-ballot Hall of Famers (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) in the divisional round and AFC championship game to reach the Super Bowl.

Flacco's 70-yard heave to Jacoby Jones to force overtime against the Denver Broncos will go down as one of the most remarkable plays in NFL history, capped off by the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy.

Ben Powers, Patrick Onwuasor Named to PFF's Team of the Week

With key starters sidelined, Week 17 provided the chance for backups to showcase their talent in the season finale, and Ben Powers took advantage of the opportunity. The rookie fourth-round guard was named to Pro Football Focus' Team of the Week.

"Making his NFL debut, Powers was exceptional when he entered the game in the second quarter," PFF wrote. "Powers didn't allow a pressure and was solid in run-blocking, making way to a 78.8 run-block grade."

Powers played 32 snaps and helped pave the way for a historic day on the ground. Even without Jackson and Ingram, the Ravens rushed for 223 yards against one of the league's top defenses.

"When you factor in how often the Ravens ran in the middle of the game, it was even more impressive with their game plan tipped to the Steelers," Russell Street Report's Cole Jackson wrote. "Powers looked very solid when he got in at right guard, which is an encouraging sign for those projecting future offensive line talent for the Ravens."

Patrick Onwuasor also made PFF's list as a special teams contributor, totaling eight tackles.

Brandon Carr Reflects on His Season and Community Achievements

You won't find a player that embodies how to be a pro on and off the field better than Brandon Carr.

The veteran cornerback is the team's Ed Block Courage Award recipient and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee this season. On the field, he started his 192nd consecutive game last Sunday.

Carr joined Glenn Clark Radio and reflected on his season and community achievements.

"This is like growing up with the guys in the neighborhood and guys in school," Carr said. "We have that much chemistry and camaraderie in the locker room. It's a lot of fun to go to practice and go to work each and every day. To play on Sundays, man, it's an absolute thrill."

Carr, who's done extensive work with the National Breast Cancer Society and leading his Carr Cares Foundation, said being considered for the community-based awards is a big deal to him.

"A lot of great men have come before me," Carr said. "To not only be able to play football and use this platform on the field to make plays and win Super Bowls, but we [also] have opportunities to influence our communities and impact lives in a much bigger area than we're playing in now."

Carr said the hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns heading into the season helped fuel the Ravens, and acknowledged the ultimate goal is lifting the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.

"My goal from Day One was to win the whole thing, and that's what we're going for," Carr said. "We're not going to stop until we get it."

Quick Hits

  • Mark Andrews joined ESPN's "Golic and Wingo" to talk about his sophomore season and Jackson's success.
  • Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has the Ravens taking Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, and Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings in his latest three-round mock draft.

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