It wasn’t pretty early. Baltimore found itself in a 10-0 first-quarter hole, aided by a Jackson interception on an inexplicably poor throw. Before Jackson and his Ravens teammates even got settled into the flow of the game, they had to confront their, and their quarterback’s, demons.
“The Ravens aren’t built to come back from a double-digit deficit.” That sentiment echoed throughout social media and even on the ESPN broadcast. It was a fair observation, too. The Ravens were 0-6 in the Jackson era when they’ve fallen behind by 10 points or more. Baltimore’s last win after losing by 10 or more points was way back in September of 2016. Simply put, the Ravens, with their run-heavy style, were built to get and play with a lead, not to scratch and claw back into a game. But there’s a difference between a strong preference and an inability, and Baltimore proved that, at least for one Sunday, they were able to hang and persevere even when the chips were stacked against them.
There is no doubt what the turning point was in this wild-card game. With 2:45 left in the first half, down 10-3, Jackson made the play of the game and arguably the most meaningful play of his NFL career.
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With no tortured history at play, the Ravens can look forward to a terrific matchup in Buffalo.
The Ravens just played their best defensive game of the season, but they’ll have to be every bit as good against a Buffalo offense that finished second in scoring, second in total yardage and first in third-down efficiency.
Where does a Ravens fan find hope? Well, Allen relies heavily on Diggs (127 catches on a whopping 166 targets), and the Ravens covered No. 1 receivers better than any team remaining in the playoffs. On defense, Buffalo allowed opponents to average 4.6 yards per carry and just gave up 472 total yards in a narrow wild-card victory over the Indianapolis Colts. If the Colts had finished drives a little more efficiently, the Bills would already be out of the playoffs. Was that performance a fluke or a sign Buffalo isn’t actually a juggernaut against quality opposition?
This matchup doesn’t carry the narrative punch of Ravens-Titans or Ravens-Chiefs but offers football intrigue aplenty. We’ll hear vigorous debates about which 2018 first-round pick, Jackson or Allen, is further along. We’ll anticipate a tactical battle between two of the league’s best coaching staffs. We’ll keep an eye on the forecast (30% chance of snow showers on Saturday night, per the National Weather Service).
Sounds like January football at its finest.
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Date: Saturday, Jan. 16 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET | TV: NBC
Opening line: Bills -2.5
Last meeting: Week 14, 2019 (Ravens 24, Bills 17)
Overview: Josh Allen and the Bills are fresh off a 27-24 nail-biter against the Colts, whereas Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are coming off their own close win against Tennessee. At peak form, both sides are capable of wowing with their big-play abilities — Baltimore in the form of Jackson’s legs, and Buffalo with Allen’s freaky pocket mobility and downfield chemistry with Stefon Diggs. Defense isn’t always the strong suit for either team, but you can be sure they’ll bring splashy plays to the table.
Early outlook: Oddsmakers are right to basically deem this an even matchup early on. The simplest way to boil this one down is to focus on the QBs: Which young signal-caller can seize the spotlight? Buffalo’s run “D” is vulnerable, which may bode well for Jackson, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and the Ravens’ stable of ball-carriers. On the flip side, the Ravens have been feisty against the pass, but Allen and Diggs have connected to roll over even top secondaries. It’s a true toss-up. If it comes down to making plays through the air, perhaps Buffalo’s the safer play, especially at home with an extra day of rest.
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It sounds strange, but Josh Allen may have a bigger burden than Lamar Jackson in this game. The Bills have all but given up running the ball, with Zack Moss (who suffered an ankle injury) and Devin Singletary combining for 10 carries for 42 yards on Saturday, and they are unlikely to try against this stout Baltimore front.
The Bills defense made just enough plays against the Colts, but it was concerning to see the unit give up 472 yards. Head coach Sean McDermott’s group is often about bending but not breaking while making key plays in the red zone. Combine that approach with the Ravens’ tendency for long drives, and the Bills defense could be on the field a lot in this game.
What’s different this time around for the Bills?
Allen was almost a different player the last time these two teams met. He was completely contained by the Ravens last season, managing just 146 passing yards on 46 attempts. Baltimore blitzed Allen a ton and he went 2 of 17 passing on the 24 drop backs where he faced pressure. He was sacked six times when the Ravens brought the blitz. Allen is likely to face some pressure again this time around. The Ravens are built to blitz up front and they even added Yannick Ngakoue at the deadline to bolster their pass rush. But Allen now has the NFL’s leading receiver in Stefon Diggs, who has elevated the Bills’ pass offense to one of the league’s best. How the Ravens choose to attack Allen will be one of this game’s most intriguing storylines.