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Ravens @ Falcons: 3 Key Matchups

Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Atlanta for a potentially pivotal contest in Week 13. A clutch road victory would go a long way towards holding off Indianapolis and Denver for the AFC’s final wildcard spot. Oddsmakers essentially view this contest as a pick’em game with a 48 point total.

The 4-7 Falcons are on a three game losing streak. Their high powered passing offense has not been enough to compensate for a porous defense that has allowed the 8th most rushing yards, 7th most passing yards and 4th most points. Baltimore won the most recent meeting between these franchises 29-7 in 2014.

Atlanta is winless in three tries against the AFC North this season and 3-9 out of conference since 2016. The Ravens are hoping to improve upon their 2-3 record on the road and 0-2 mark against the NFC this year. Oddsshark projects a 26-23 Baltimore victory.

Can the Ravens second ranked pass defense hold up against the Falcons fourth ranked passing offense? Will Baltimore’s newfound rushing attack provide the winning edge? Which team will make more splash plays?

These three key matchups will determine the outcome:

CB Jimmy Smith vs WR Julio Jones

After eight season in the NFL, Julio Jones remains arguably the best receiver in the game. His 1,305 yards currently lead the league and his 61 first downs rank second in the NFL. It will be strength on strength when Baltimore’s cornerback trio of Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr matchup with an Atlanta receiving corps that features Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu. Ridley and Sanu are capable pass catchers, but Julio is the centerpiece of their offense.

In the 2014 meeting, Smith displayed his strong coverage ability by limiting Jones to 56 yards on five catches. Jimmy was able to breakup two passes when they last met and has the length to counter the tall receiver. Keeping Jones out of the end zone would surely boost the Ravens chances.

Baltimore’s defense can hold the Falcons to field goals instead of touchdowns if they eliminate explosive plays from their receivers.

QB Lamar Jackson vs S Damontae Kazee

After leading the Ravens to two straight wins, the exciting rookie will face a new challenge on the road in Week 13. Jackson’s speed can certainly provide chunk plays on the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Most importantly, Lamar needs to avoid costly interceptions that put the Ravens in position to defend short fields.

The Falcons defense was decimated by injuries in September when both starting safeties, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, landed on injured reserve. Yet their second-year free safety Kazee has played remarkably well on the backend for Atlanta. Damontae has notched six interceptions in 2018 including a pick-off of Drew Brees on Thanksgiving. His 41 tackles playing a centerfielder role have prevented long gains from becoming back-breaking scores.

The correlation between winning the turnover battle and winning the game is tremendous.

OLB Matt Judon vs RT Ryan Schraeder

Matt Ryan is in the midst of his best statistical season with a league leading 3,683 passing yards and a 24:5 touchdown to interception ratio. Nonetheless, all quarterbacks perform better with time in the pocket. Atlanta’s offensive line has allowed 33 sacks this season, 12th most in the NFL. Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale has called relatively vanilla games since the Week 10 bye, he will need to dial up pressure this week or Ryan will pick the defense apart in the middle of the field.

Judon has come on strong with 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble over his last three games. Meanwhile, Schraeder has allowed significantly more pressure in 2018 than he did during either of the last two seasons. Jake Matthews has blocked well at left tackle, however interior penetrator Za’Darius Smith also has an advantageous matchup against below average left guard Wes Schweitzer.

This showdown against the Falcons potent passing offense presents an opportunity for the Ravens defense to back up their league best ranking.

Score prediction: Ravens 27, Falcons 20