1) Baltimore Ravens (11-2)
The Ravens are an absolute machine. They have no weakness. Baltimore’s offense, defense, special teams, coaching, culture and management are at the head of the class.
Lamar Jackson is the clear leader for NFL MVP (he’s getting my Associated Press vote). But it goes beyond the special nature of Lamar. Mark Ingram is a beast running the ball. Mark Andrews is a fantastic tight end. The defense has become great after a rough, injury-riddled start to the season. Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the game, bar none. John Harbaugh is a superb head coach (and has been for a decade). Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is getting my vote for Assistant Coach of the Year. General manager Eric DeCosta brilliantly traded for Marcus Peters in October after brilliantly signing Ingram and Earl Thomas in March. (Not to mention, drafting Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in April.)
Jackson is the ultimate weapon, and the Ravens can win any style of fight -- against any team. During Baltimore’s current nine-game winning streak, the Ravens have beaten four of the other contenders listed below -- Seattle, New England, Houston and San Francisco -- as well as the Steelers (currently 8-5), Rams (8-5) and Bills (9-4). Since the beginning of October, this team has faced a gauntlet of high-level teams ... and come through it all unscathed. Baltimore’s a battle-tested juggernaut.
Winning Every Way Imaginable: 49ers Are Sitting Pretty in NFC Playoff Race After Outgunning the Saints - Albert Breer
THE RAVENS DEFENSE IS BACK IN THE DISCUSSION
They knew what they were seeing wasn’t a real Raven defense. So they started making moves. They cut Timmy Williams to send a jolt to the group, emphasizing that, as a whole, they needed to get tougher. They signed veteran linebacker Josh Bynes, and he came in and had a settling affect on the front seven right away.
And just as they were getting Jimmy Smith back at corner, they traded for Peters. All of this, in the year they said bye to Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, aimed at restoring the standard that had been upheld by those guys and others like them for two decades.
“That’s who we are,” Judon said. “We had to get back to that, man. It was too many holes and too many leaks in our defense. And don’t underestimate what the front office did, bringing in players and switching some things up. Kudos to them, they saw a chink in the armour and they got it fixed, and then we made some trades, got Pete (Peters) and then we brought on a couple other people and we’re playing Raven defense right now.
“We’re doing that and that’s what we’re accustomed to and used to.”
And after 14 weeks, you add it to what Lamar Jackson and the offensive guys have done, and you get the best team in football.
Defensive Notes at Bills 12/8/19 - Ken McKusick
The Ravens allowed Josh Allen ample time and space (ATS) on just 9 of 45 drop backs (20%).
On the 27 plays with 5+ rushing, the Bills gained a total of just 8 yards (0.3 YPP) including 4 sacks and 1 takeaway.
Martindale also served the Bills a healthy dose of deception. He called 19 individual blitzes, 5 stunts, and five drops of 2 or more men to coverage.
Ravens Pass Rush Is a Problem – For Opponents - Clifton Brown
Some had it twisted before the season, thinking Baltimore would have trouble generating pressure on quarterbacks after the loss of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs during free agency. Not true. Baltimore punished Bills quarterback Josh Allen on Sunday, sacking him six times and hitting him 12 times during a 24-17 victory.
Batlimore’s blitz packages have been a major part of the pass rush equation. Through 13 games, Baltimore has blitzed on 47.7 percent of its defensive snaps,[comma] according to Pro Football Reference. That’s more than 7 percent more blitzing than the next closest team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40.5 percent).
Martindale has license to be daring, able to send five, six, or seven players after the quarterback, knowing the Ravens have cornerbacks who can handle one-on-one coverage.
Meanwhile, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Brandon Williams is dominating up front, often occupying two offensive linemen and creating rushing lanes for teammates to exploit.
After giving up more than 500 yards in Weeks 3 & 4, Baltimore’s defense was ranked 27th in the NFL. It is now ranked No. 6 overall, and their pass rush is part of the reason for the turnaround.
Baltimore Ravens injuries: Lamar Jackson limited in practice, Ronnie Stanley has concussion - Aaron Kasinitz
Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed Monday’s practice with a concussion, which leaves his status for Thursday’s game murky.
In addition, tight end Mark Andrews (knee), safety Anthony Levine (ankle) and linebacker Chris Board (concussion) were all absent from Monday’s walkthrough.
The Ravens’ injury report Monday was an estimation because it was a walkthrough rather than a full session. Jackson and defensive end Jihad Ward were projected to be limited. Both were on the field by the time the team closed the session to media members.