Our Guide To The NFL’s Divisional Round - Neil Paine
Tale of the tape: No. 2 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Baltimore
The best game of the divisional round will feature Lamar Jackson’s Ravens paying a visit to fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen and the Bills. Baltimore eked out a 24-17 win at Buffalo when last they met, in 2019 — but the Bills have gotten significantly better since then, while the Ravens were diminished somewhat in 2020 (though they have looked like their old selves of late). What’s left is a balanced matchup in which Buffalo holds the all-important advantage in the passing game but Baltimore has an edge running the ball and on defense. Based on those two strengths, the Ravens’ path to the upset is not dissimilar to the one Indianapolis nearly executed against Buffalo last Saturday, nor is it even much different from the formula Baltimore used in Sunday’s signature win over the rival Tennessee Titans. Look for Jackson to try to exploit Buffalo’s soft rush defense (No. 20 in EPA) as a runner but for Allen to throw the ball early and often, as the Bills had the league’s pass-happiest offense in “normal” game situations5 all year long. Although Baltimore is a very dangerous team, our model gives Buffalo a 65 percent chance to grab the win at home and advance to its first AFC title game since January 1994. Elo’s spread: Buffalo -4½
NFL Divisional Round X-factors: Who could fuel a Super Bowl run? - Cynthia Frelund
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (8:15 p.m. ET on NBC)
Pro Football Focus shows that Baltimore’s top two corners have been tested downfield a lot this season, with Marcus Peters in coverage against 48 targets of 10-plus air yards (tied for eighth-most) and Marlon Humphrey facing 43 such targets (tied for 11th-most). Peters’ gambling style has been a gift and a curse in this area, with four picks and five touchdowns allowed — both ranking among the four highest marks for cornerbacks against passes of 10-plus air yards. Humphrey’s efforts here have been more balanced, with fewer big plays made and given up. Saturday night presents quite a challenge for the Ravens’ CB duo. Buffalo QB Josh Allen has been productive at all passing depths, including 10-plus air yards, where he’s piled up 21 of his 37 touchdown passes on a 113.9 passer rating. That said, this is the area where Allen has thrown nine of his 10 picks, so the playmaking Peters could have takeaway opportunities. Overall, the Ravens have allowed just a 45.6 percent completion rate and an 82.6 passer rating against throws of 10-plus air yards.
Ravens vs. Bills scouting report for the AFC divisional round: Who has the edge? - Childs Walker
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson finally ended talk that he couldn’t win in the playoffs, leading the Ravens over the Tennessee Titans on the road.
Jackson answered critics who said he couldn’t do damage along the sidelines, finding wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown seven times on nine targets for 109 yards. Jackson finished the season seventh in ESPN’s QBR, ahead of Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. He’ll face a better pass defense this week, though the Bills have struggled to cover No. 1 wide receivers, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Wide receiver Willie Snead IV returned from an ankle injury against the Titans, but Jackson threw to him just twice for nine yards.
PREDICTION: Jackson will move the ball against a defense that allowed 472 yards against the Colts, but he’ll need to finish drives in the end zone to stay ahead of the Bills’ first-down machine. The Ravens haven’t faced this good a passing offense since the Chiefs blew them out in Week 3. They’ll have to keep Allen in the pocket and play their best coverage game of the season to limit Diggs and Beasley. Ultimately, they have the right players to match up with the Bills on both sides of the ball. Ravens 30, Bills 24.
Five bold predictions for NFL divisional round: Tom Brady’s heroics lift Buccaneers, Rams make another QB swap - Cody Benjamin
Lamar Jackson, Ravens stun Bills in snowy Buffalo
To be clear, we’re not quite sure yet whether Buffalo will actually get snow on Saturday night. But here’s what we are sure of: Lamar Jackson and Co. should be able to run the ball against Sean McDermott’s defense. The Ravens didn’t exactly explode against the Titans in the wild-card round, and we’re still big believers in Josh Allen’s play-making abilities. But something says Jackson’s electricity, coupled with the rest of Baltimore’s ground game, will come up big in what figures to be a blow-for-blow fight to the finish. Here comes another showdown between the 2018 and 2019 MVPs in the AFC title game!
NFL Divisional Round game picks: Ravens edge Bills; Saints ousted by Bucs - Gregg Rosenthal
Baltimore Ravens 30, Buffalo Bills 28
This is the best game of the week because of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, two quarterbacks backed by two rosters ready to win the Super Bowl right now.
While recency bias may be at play here, my slight edge goes to the Ravens because the Bills defense that showed up in the Wild Card Round looked too much like the Bills defense from the first half of the season. The Bills have given up more than 200 rushing yards twice this year and seven times since Sean McDermott took over. Indianapolis had chances to win last week because Buffalo’s defense was overwhelmed by a cohesive rushing attack that got to the outside in key moments.
Baltimore’s defense, meanwhile, is peaking. The Ravens won’t be able to blitz Allen into submission like they did late last regular season, but even a handful of negative plays and a turnover would be enough in a game unlikely to feature many defensive stops. Buffalo’s pass rush is also unlikely to bother Jackson, putting too much pressure on linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to constantly save the day.
Allen is the X-factor. In a quarterback league, no one is playing better. Even if the Ravens have the right game plan, he can make plays that are impossible to defend outside the pocket. The same could be said about Jackson, even if the Ravens’ passing game is more sporadic. This may be the best matchup of young, mobile quarterbacks in NFL playoff history, and I’m just thrilled to watch it no matter what happens.