Large Majority of Pundits Pick Ravens to Cool Off Rams
The Los Angeles Rams enter Sunday's game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium as one of the hottest teams in the league. They've won three straight, including their past two by a combined score of 73-33.
However, most pundits we looked at (48 of 53) are predicting that the Ravens will end the Rams' hot streak.
Both teams have plenty of incentive. The Ravens (9-3) are vying for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while the Rams (6-6) are in the hunt for a playoff berth.
An unexpected twist surfaced yesterday when Lamar Jackson missed practice due to illness.
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
The expected inclement weather favors the Ravens.
The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker: "This one could be a slopfest based on a weather forecast that at least for now includes rain and high winds. Baltimore also faces a surging Rams team that has won three straight and features one of the game's best pass rushers in Aaron Donald. Expect a heavy dose of running, with the Ravens leaning on Gus Edwards and Keaton Mitchell to win a close one."
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer: "That inclement weather could favor the Ravens, if only because of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford's relative inexperience. According to TruMedia, he last played in a game with rainy conditions at kickoff in 2017, when he went 19-for-35 (54.3%) for 203 yards, a touchdown and an interception as the Cincinnati Bengals beat Stafford's Detroit Lions, 26-17. The Ravens' Lamar Jackson, meanwhile, has played in five games with rainy conditions at kickoff since 2019, the third most of an NFL quarterback in that span. He's completed 56.8% of his passes for 174 yards per game and thrown six touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also averaged 80 rushing yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry in those rainy matchups. Ball security has been a weakness, though; Jackson has fumbled eight times, losing four."
**NBC Sports’ Chris Simms:** "That to me is more of a Ravens type of football game. When you talk about the weather how can you not take that into account? I trust the Ravens run game more. I trust their ability to handle the elements altogether more."
The Ravens will bring the Rams back to earth.
**Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon:** "The Rams have been taking advantage of a soft stretch in the schedule, and now they're in for a rude awakening on the road against a Ravens team that has put up more than 30 points in four consecutive home games. Los Angeles isn't as good as its record, and Baltimore can't mess around here."
**USA Today’s Jordan Mendoza:** "Los Angeles has certainly benefitted from an easy part in the schedule, but going across the country to face a refreshed Baltimore team is certainly a tough thing to overcome. With one of the top passing defenses in the league, Baltimore makes it hard for Matthew Stafford to find his trusty receivers and gets a two-score victory."
Jackson will continue his mastery over NFC teams.
**The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon:** "I picked both the Lions and Seahawks to come into Baltimore and beat the Ravens, and they were outscored a combined 75-9. So, lesson learned. As tempting as it is to pick an upset given the Rams' recent surge, Lamar Jackson is 18-3 in his career against NFC teams. I'm not betting against that, nor a John Harbaugh-coached team coming off a bye."
Odell Beckham Jr. will have a big game against his former team.
"Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager: "Mark Andrews went down and [Offensive Coordinator] Todd Monken and [Head Coach] John Harbaugh had a chance to get in the lab for a week while they were on the bye. … I love the fact that for Odell, it isn't revenge against the Rams. He won a Super Bowl with them; he loves those guys. I also think he's going to show out against his old teammates."
Rams WRs Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua vs. the Ravens pass defense is the matchup X-factor.
**ESPN’s Seth Walder:** "This will be a challenging game for [Kupp and Nacua], as the Ravens are the second-most difficult team to get open against (after the Jets), according to ESPN's receiver tracking metrics. But Kupp and Nacua are talented, and this game could swing on this strength-on-strength matchup."
If it comes down to the kicking game, the Ravens have the advantage.
**The Ringer’s Sheil Kapadia:** "I think special teams could be a big factor here. The Ravens have Justin Tucker, while the Rams added longtime Packers kicker Mason Crosby this week and are looking to solve their field goal issues."
The Ravens will secure an ugly win.
The Baltimore Banner's Chris Korman: "We know the Ravens have been middling against middling teams and that the weather is going to be atrocious Sunday and that Lamar Jackson missed practice Thursday. All of which adds up to this game being messier than it needs to be. I expect the Ravens to attempt to bully the Rams on both sides of the ball and to largely succeed. They're fresh off a bye week and have known all season that this December gauntlet would be their ultimate proving ground. It's not going to be pretty, and the score will be closer than it should be, but the Ravens should control this one."
The Rams will pull off the upset.
**The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Schwartz:** "The Rams are red-hot and finding their groove, and they need this win to solidify their playoff positioning in a crowded NFC. The return of Marlon Humphrey helps, but this feels like a matchup that favors the Rams. Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp are a dynamic duo that will feast on the back end of the Ravens defense. Baltimore can win this game if it runs the ball well, but can Tyler Linderbaum slow down Aaron Donald? That's a tall task, even for a potential All-Pro. My gut says the Ravens will revert to some bad habits and find a way to lose."
|6 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
|3 of 4 panelists pick Ravens
|3 of 4 panelists pick Ravens / “Can the Ravens continue their pattern of blowing out mid-tier NFC contenders at home? The Rams, with an efficient running game and stars in Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald, are no pushovers. But the Ravens have the defense and running game to beat them down over four quarters, especially given their rest advantage.” — Childs Walker
|8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
|5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens
|“The Rams have won three straight following their Week 10 bye with both the offense and defense playing their best football of the season in that span. Matthew Stafford and Co. have averaged 30 points per game, while the Aaron Donald-led D has allowed 16.3 points per game in that span. Unfortunately, none of Los Angeles' previous three opponents have been anywhere near Baltimore's level. Coming off the bye week, the Ravens head into this game ranked in the top 10 in scoring, total and rushing offense, while also boasting the No. 1 scoring defense. With Lamar Jackson having his best season in many categories, Baltimore should continue to push for the AFC’s top seed and improve to 7-0 this season against teams that are .500 or worse.” — Brooke Cersimo
|8 of 10 panelists pick Ravens
|Ravens 27, Rams 17
|“The Rams have looked great with Matthew Stafford playing at his best veteran level during their three-game winning streak. But they run into a more challenging defense on the road vs. the Ravens, a team known for crushing NFC visiting foes with Lamar Jackson. The Rams don't have enough to keep up as Odell Becikham Jr. leads the offensive way in a revenge game.” — Vinnie Iyer
|8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
|“This is a long trip for the Rams against a team coming off a bye. The Rams are one of the surprise teams so far, but this is a real challenge for their defense. Lamar Jackson and the offense will get the best of that unit, while the Ravens defense plays well against Matthew Stafford.” — Pete Prisco
|Pro Football Talk
|2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens
|“I think the Rams are going to give them fits, but I think the Ravens [win].” — Mike Florio
|7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
Four Late Additions Have Fortified NFL's No. 1 Scoring Defense
The Ravens have one of the best defenses in the league thanks in part to four veterans who were added between late July and late September for a total of just $5.7 million.
"Only outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney could be called a star of the league's stingiest scoring defense," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "But nickel back Arthur Maulet is a stout run stopper and one of the top blitzers in coordinator Mike Macdonald's madcap rush designs. Ronald Darby has helped keep the secondary together in the six games the Ravens have played without their top cornerback, Marlon Humphrey. The last major addition to the defense, outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, stepped in to provide pass-rush punch in the absence of David Ojabo, Tyus Bowser and, for a time, Odafe Oweh.
"Injuries to talents such as Humphrey and Oweh might have led to devastating dips in performance in previous seasons, but the Ravens patched right over them."
Macdonald credited the front office for bringing in players who have seamlessly fit in.
"Eric [DeCosta] and Ozzie [Newsome] talked about it over the years, talking about your roster is never really set throughout the course of the season, and I think that's a philosophy of the organization, just always trying to improve the team," Macdonald said. "We've done a great job at targeting guys that can be productive for us, and then we kind of take it from there. Obviously, we're always excited to take on a great player; we're never going to turn down a great player."
Ravens Lead League in Sacks Thanks to Scheme and Selflessness
The prevailing opinion heading into the season was that the pass rush was one of the Ravens' biggest concerns, but the team leads the league in sacks with 47 and is on pace to finish with 67 sacks, which would eclipse the franchise record of 60 set in 2006.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said scheme is a big reason why a defense that's blitzing less than 23 percent of the time is No. 1 in sacks.
"Macdonald and his defensive staff have consistently schemed up free rushers and found ways to get quarterbacks to hold the ball a little longer," Zrebiec wrote. "Coaching matters, too. Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver and Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith, a pass-rushing specialist John Harbaugh hired in March, have created a cohesiveness by merging the defensive line and linebacker position rooms while constantly drilling moves and techniques. Talent also tends to trump everything. Jadeveon Clowney, Odafe Oweh and Justin Madubuike have always possessed enticing physical traits."
Zrebiec also said the players' unselfishness has also played a large role.
"One of the first things players and coaches bring up is the selflessness of the defensive unit and how everyone has embraced their responsibilities on each play," Zrebiec wrote. "Whether that's setting a pick for another rusher to get through, absorbing a double-team, clearing out a lane or dropping into coverage to let somebody else get after the quarterback, the Ravens have taken a team approach to harassing signal callers. Madubuike has been the headliner, but it's not just about one guy. Essentially, everyone gets a turn to rush — and it's on them to make the most of it.
"Fifteen Ravens players have at least a half-sack, and that group includes five interior linemen, five outside linebackers, two inside linebackers and three defensive backs."
ESPN Pundit Says Ravens Are Team That Matches Up Best Against 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have emerged as the Super Bowl favorite, which has led to a debate over which team matches up best against them.
ESPN’s Mina Kimes said it's the Ravens, who will face the 49ers in San Francisco on Christmas night.
"The Niners are the best team in football. They're incredibly dominant. But when I look at that squad, the one weakness that they have is run defense — Baltimore's the best rushing team in football, unsurprisingly," Kimes said. "Offensively, [the 49ers] are an absolute juggernaut, but the things you need to compete with them are a very, very good pass rush, four-man rush, and an elite linebacking duo who can tackle and cover because of everything they do with their personnel groupings. Baltimore has that [in Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen]."
Kimes isn't alone in her belief that the Ravens defense is the best-equipped to slow the 49ers offense. As noted in Late for Work earlier this week, The Ringer's Steven Ruiz wrote that "if Mike Macdonald, the NFL's best defensive coordinator, doesn't have the players and tactics to slow down the 49ers, then we might as well hand them the Lombardi Trophy right now."
- Comedian Stavros Halkias, a Baltimore native and die-hard Ravens fan, predicted how the rest of the Ravens' season will play out on “The Rich Eisen Show.”