Overwhelming Majority of Pundits Predict a Ravens Victory
For the second consecutive week, the Ravens are playing in the best game on the NFL slate and one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
On Christmas night, it was a battle of conference leaders with the San Francisco 49ers, which the Ravens won, 33-19. On Sunday, the Ravens (12-3) will host the Miami Dolphins (11-4) in a showdown between the top two teams in the AFC. Baltimore will clinch the No. 1 seed with a victory.
In a reversal of last week's predictions for the Ravens-49ers game, an overwhelming majority of pundits (50 of 55) we looked at are picking the Ravens, who are a 3.5-point favorite, to win.
Regardless of what the oddsmakers and pundits think, the Ravens' mindset hasn't changed.
"We're the underdogs," Lamar Jackson said this week. When asked why he felt that way, he replied: "Because we're the underdogs."
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
The Ravens will win because they're the more physical team.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "I think there's a gap between the Ravens and the Dolphins. There's a toughness there. … AFC North football is real. It's the new black and blue division, and I just don't think the Dolphins can handle that, especially in Baltimore. We've seen good teams go into Baltimore this year and get destroyed. … I'm not going to pick this as a blowout, [but] it could be. I'm going to keep it close. I'm picking the Ravens. I'm never picking against the Ravens ever again for as long as I live."
The Ravens will win a wild one.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "I'm taking the Ravens to outlast the Dolphins in a wild 27-24 type of game. On a short week, it will be hard for the Ravens to match the intensity and physicality they showed in Santa Clara, but this Baltimore team has answered the bell at pretty much every key juncture of the season so far."
The Ravens will not suffer a letdown after big win in San Francisco.
**The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker:** "The Ravens have a short week after a West Coast game in which they dominated the 49ers in an emotional game, and that might normally be a concern for something of a letdown. But Baltimore can smell the finish line, and the defense as well as quarterback Lamar Jackson are operating at a high level."
The colder the weather, the more it favors the Ravens.
**CBS Sports’ John Breech:** "Although I've tried to convince myself that the Dolphins can play in cold weather, the numbers say otherwise: Since the start of the 2017 season, the Dolphins are 1-14 when the kickoff temperature is at 45 degrees or below and that includes an 0-4 record with Mike McDaniel as their coach. As things stand now, the temperature for this game is expected to be right around 45 degrees at kickoff. We'll find out if Mother Nature is a Dolphins fan this week, because if she is, she'll make sure that it's 46 or higher when this game starts."
Running the ball and winning time of possession is crucial for the Ravens.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks: "For the Ravens, you want to run the football, because you can look at your personnel and say, 'Hey, we can go toe to toe,' but I've seen Tyreek Hill run by some of their DBs before. So you want to limit his opportunities. The reason why the running game is important? If the Baltimore Ravens aren't dominating the time of possession it leaves their defense vulnerable to giving up some big plays. You do not want this team to have a lot of opportunities. So, Lamar Jackson, you have to take care of the football. You want to slow the game down by relying on you and the running backs to run the football, and we'll pick and choose when we can take our shots."
The Ravens defense needs to build doubt in Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa like they did with 49ers QB Brock Purdy.
**Fox Sports’ Henry McKenna:** "There are a number of ways to do that: speedy pass-rushing, jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, run-defending that's strong enough to limit the amount of defenders in the box. The Dolphins offense is predicated upon timing. Tua Tagovailoa has the fastest time to throw in the NFL — it's extremely difficult for the rush to disrupt him. But if the Ravens can interfere with his throwing windows or prevent the receivers from getting to their spots, then Tagovailoa will hesitate. And those slivers of hesitation can bring Miami's offense crumbling down."
Jackson is the matchup X-factor.
**ESPN’s Seth Walder:** "Why? Because since Week 8, the Dolphins' defense ranks first in EPA per play. Miami is firing on all cylinders, and Jackson is going to have to orchestrate an offense around that dominant defense. While Jackson is largely considered an MVP candidate, he also ranks only eighth in QBR."
Matchup to watch: Ravens WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Dolphins CB Jalen Ramsey
**Pro Football Focus’ Marcus Mosher:** "The Dolphins have been a much different defense since Jalen Ramsey returned to the field. And we will have an excellent matchup on Sunday, with Ramsey likely seeing a ton of Beckham. This matchup favors Ramsey, but don't be surprised if Beckham makes a handful of clutch plays to keep the offense on schedule for Baltimore."
Storyline to watch: The showdown between the NFL's highest-scoring offense in the Dolphins (29 offensive points per game) and the league's stingiest defense in the Ravens (16.3 points allowed per game).
**ESPN’s Jamison Hensley:** "It's the fourth time that the No. 1 scoring offense has faced the No. 1 scoring defense in the final two weeks of the regular season since the 1970 merger. The team with the highest-scoring offense has won three of the four meetings."
The Dolphins will cool off the Ravens.
**USA Today’s Safid Deen:** "These teams could meet again in the AFC title game this season. It'll just be a matter of where, with the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The Dolphins believe they ended the narrative they can't beat winning teams against the Cowboys last week. But the bulk of the Ravens' wins this season have come against much tougher opponents like the 49ers, Jaguars, Rams, Lions and Seahawks. Tua Tagovailoa may not throw six touchdowns again like he did on his last trip to Baltimore last season, but Miami has enough firepower to beat Lamar Jackson and the surging Ravens."
The Baltimore Banner's Kyle Goon: "After picking against the Ravens last week, I'll admit that their clotheslining of San Francisco has me wary of picking against them again. But the injury factors have me concerned. If the Ravens are missing Kyle Hamilton, Brandon Stephens, Arthur Maulet or some combination of those three, how are they going to cover the Dolphins' array of speedy weapons (even if Jaylen Waddle doesn't play, as expected)? Zay Flowers and Kevin Zeitler are also dinged up, creating uncertainty at positions that have been shaky, to say the least, since the bye week. … The injury uncertainty combined with the game-changing speed has me favoring Miami in this matchup, but then again, the Ravens seem to perform their best when doubted. If this prediction is wrong, credit me for fueling them later."
|8 of 10 panelists pick Ravens
|4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens
|“If Ravens-49ers was the game of the year, this one is even more important. The Ravens will need takeaways to counter unavoidable chunk gains from Miami’s playmakers. The Dolphins won’t have an answer for Lamar Jackson, but if they can go up early, they might prevent the Ravens from pounding on them in the second half. Advantage goes to the home team as these heavyweights match strengths.” — Childs Walker
|7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
|5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens
|“While looking for signs Baltimore might be vulnerable, I instead came away with a greater appreciation for the Ravens' ability to succeed in nearly any kind of circumstance this season. They've won on the road, at home, against good teams, against bad teams, by huge margins and narrow ones. Miami has not shown that kind of resilience yet. The Dolphins could push Baltimore, but the Ravens will not flinch, not with a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC.” — Tom Blair
|9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens
|Ravens 27, Dolphins 20
|“The Ravens' pass defense is incredible with its combination of deep pass rush and active secondary playmakers. Miami's offensive line will take some hits here and Tua Tagovailoa also will be down Jaylen Waddle to limit the coverage burden on Baltimore. The Dolphins can run to stay in the game early but the Ravens will eventually get to tee off on Tua.” — Vinnie Iyer
|8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
|“This is the game of the week and could decide the top seed in the AFC and the MVP between Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have blown out a bunch of good teams, but that won't be the case here. Miami will hang around in this one, but I think in the end the Ravens defense will be the difference with a late stop.” — Pete Prisco
|Pro Football Talk
|2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens
|“The Ravens will kick the sh— … never mind. It will be a close, hard-fought battle between two great teams. Someone has to win. Unless they tie.” — Mike Florio
|6 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
Joe Flacco Leads Browns to Playoff-Clinching Victory
While you were (maybe) sleeping, the Cleveland Browns routed the New York Jets, 37-20, behind another elite performance from Joe Flacco to clinch a playoff berth and remain in contention for the AFC North title and the No. 1 seed in the conference.
The 38-year-old former Ravens quarterback threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Flacco, the Super Bowl XLVII MVP, is on track to start his first postseason game since January 2015.
The Browns (11-5) are 4-1 with Flacco as their starter after signing him off the street.
Cleveland can capture the division crown if it wins its season finale in Cincinnati and the Ravens lose at home to Miami and Pittsburgh. The Browns will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC if they beat the Bengals, the Ravens lose to the Dolphins and Steelers, and the Dolphins lose at home to the Buffalo Bills in Week 18.
Hamilton Deserves Defensive Player of the Year Consideration
Hamilton has played so well in his second season that he not only should make the All-Pro first team, but he also should receive votes for Defensive Player of the Year, according to Zrebiec.
"The Defensive Player of the Year award typically goes to someone putting up huge sack or takeaway numbers, and there are plenty of deserving candidates this season," Zrebiec wrote. "Three edge rushers in the AFC North have made a nice case. Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton almost certainly won't win, but his name should at least be in the conversation.
"He's done just about everything for the Ravens with four interceptions, 13 pass breakups, a forced fumble, three sacks, 81 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and a defensive touchdown. On his second interception Monday, in which he got up after getting chop-blocked by Christian McCaffrey and then loafed on for a moment by 49ers 325-pound guard Aaron Banks, to follow the ball and ultimately catch a deflection was the latest eye-popping play in a season full of them for Hamilton. If he's not a first-team All-Pro, there's something wrong with the process."
Hamilton, who left Monday's game in the fourth quarter after suffering a knee injury, returned to practice on a limited basis yesterday mostly observing during the portion open to the media.
Hamilton said after practice that he was still not sure if he would play in Sunday's game.
The Athletic Names Jackson Offensive Player of the Year, But Not MVP
With the regular season nearing its conclusion, The Athletic's Mike Jones handed out his awards.
Jones went with Miami wide receiver Hill over Jackson as MVP but chose Jackson as Offensive Player of the Year.
"In all likelihood, Jackson will win MVP because quarterbacks always have the edge over position players," Jones wrote. "Hill has a very good shot at OPOY. But in my book, Hill makes history, and Jackson takes OPOY after a truly impressive season in which he'll set career highs in completion percentage (currently at 66.3) and passing yards (on pace for 3,805). He's also projected to rush for 891 yards and rush or pass for 27 total touchdowns. Jackson proved more durable this season, and as a result, he has the Ravens in position to land the AFC's No. 1 seed."