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Ravens News 1/1: Matchup Preview and more

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals Matchup Preview - Jacob Wayne

Despite their injury issues on defense, the Ravens have allowed just 20.0 points per game, the fourth-fewest in the NFL, and 338.7 yards per game, the ninth-fewest in the NFL. They’ve also held opponents to just a 35.2% third-down conversion rate, the second-lowest in the NFL. However, with Yannick Ngakoue, Jimmy Smith, and Marcus Peters all hurt, the Ravens are in a precarious position. Cincinnati has already ruled out their starting quarterback and running back, Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, for this game, while Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are questionable. Baltimore’s defense will dominate against a weakened Cincy offense.

On defense, the Bengals have been surprisingly solid this year as they’ve allowed just 25.7 points per game, the 20th-fewest in the NFL. The secondary has seen some solid play from all of William Jackson, Darius Phillips, Mackensie Alexander, Jessie Bates, and Vonn Bell. Meanwhile, Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard have excelled off the edge. Cincinnati’s defense looks to have a bright future moving forward.

Ravens vs. Bengals in Week 17: Stats that could tell the story - Aaron Kasinitz

The Ravens have converted 22 of 34 third downs (64.7%) the past three weeks

During the Ravens’ recent four-game winning streak and offensive resurgence, many things have gone right for the offense: They’ve gained more than 230 rushing yards in four of those contests, they’ve scored early and quarterback Lamar Jackson has shredded opponents with his arm and his legs.

None of those encouraging trends should distract from Baltimore’s success on third downs. They factor into it, though. By establishing a solid running game and snatching control of contests early, the Ravens have remained in manageable third-down situations in recent weeks.

That allows offensive coordinator Greg Roman more flexibility in his play-calling.

And it frees up Jackson, the NFL’s reigning MVP, to make the type of pivotal plays that rocketed him toward stardom.

Baltimore’s passing attack isn’t as explosive as some of the ones that other AFC contenders sport. So strong performances on third downs are especially important to the Ravens, who are at their best when they’re stringing together long, efficient drives by regularly moving the chains.

The offense converted more than 50% of their third downs in just three of the season’s first 12 games, but Jackson and the Ravens have surpassed that number each of the past three weeks. And they’re only moving in the right direction. Baltimore’s 66.7% conversion rate against the Jaguars on Dec. 20 and its 72.7% rate Sunday against the Giants were its two best of the year.

To have a good shot at playing spoilers this week, the Bengals — whose defense allows conversions on 41.5% of third downs, which ranks 18th in the league — need to hope for a turnaround.

Lamar Jackson can lead Ravens to playoffs with another NFL record - Jamison Hensley

Heading into Sunday’s season finale in Cincinnati, Jackson downplayed the fact that he’s 92 yards rushing away from becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to produce two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

“Honestly, I just want to win Sunday and come out of the game healthy,” said Jackson, whose Ravens can clinch a wild-card berth by beating the Bengals. “It doesn’t matter about records being broken or anything like that. I just want to win to get into the playoffs.”

But Jackson’s track record says the Ravens’ chances of clinching a wild-card berth are actually increased if he sets this NFL mark.

Baltimore is 12-0 when Jackson rushes for 90 or more yards in a game, including 2-0 against the Bengals. This season, he went over 90 yards rushing in three games and the Ravens won each time, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns (a wild 47-42 victory on Monday Night Football).

Whom would the Ravens least want to see in the playoffs? A look at their four potential first-round opponents. - Childs Walker

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 12-3 (7-1 home, +106 point differential, 5-1 vs. winning teams)

Football Outsiders DVOA: 7th overall (22nd offense, 1st defense, 14th special teams)

Why the Ravens would want to face them: They’re 0-2 against their eternal archrivals, but they outgained and outplayed the Steelers in Week 8 and nearly beat them in Week 12 despite a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined Jackson and eight other starters. The Ravens ran for 394 yards in those two games. The Steelers lost three straight after the Week 12 matchup, with their offense going into deep slumber until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sprang to life in the second half of last Sunday’s 28-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers have run for more than 100 yards just once since Week 6, and Roethlisberger has relied largely on quick, underneath throws. The Steelers defense remains formidable but has missed pass rusher Bud Dupree, who tore his ACL in the second Ravens game.

AFC playoff race: Ranking the five 10-5 teams and their chances of making a deep postseason run - Jordan Dajani

1. Baltimore Ravens

It doesn’t seem too long ago when the Ravens were dealing with their three weeks in hell. They were upset by the Patriots, lost to the Titans in overtime and then dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak that led to their third straight loss against the Steelers. The Ravens were able to rebound after that series of unfortunate events, however, and that’s what matters. Baltimore won its next four games — including a wild shootout in Cleveland — and it appears the Ravens will make the postseason for the third straight year. While their last two regular-season wins over the Jaguars and the New York Giants aren’t going to impress anyone, they were still able to bounce back after a rough stretch and they are currently on their longest win streak of the season. That’s important for a potential contender entering the playoffs, as momentum can be everything. I also like that J.K. Dobbins has finally become a legitimate part of the offensive game plan. He has recorded double digit-touches in each of the last five games he has played in, and has scored a touchdown in each of the past five contests as well. Lamar Jackson and Co. have thought about that playoff loss they suffered last season for a full year now, and they know not to take anything for granted.