On the plus side for the Ravens, they’ll try to get well against a pass defense that ranks 29th in DVOA. The Falcons are 30th in third-down defense and 22nd in red zone defense. They rank last in pressures per dropback and second to last in sacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is their most productive pass rusher and Darren Hall their best cornerback, but coordinator Dean Pees, a familiar face to Ravens fans, isn’t working with much star power.
Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder didn’t make a good impression in his first NFL start against the New Orleans Saints, completing 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards. Atlanta’s passing game was one of the least productive in the league under pervious starter Marcus Mariota, so Ridder’s struggles were not surprising. The Falcons lost their most dynamic pass catcher when second-year tight end Kyle Pitts went on injured reserve. Among their wide receivers, 6-foot-5 rookie Drake London is a bright spot. He was Ridder’s only productive target in the loss to New Orleans, with seven catches for 70 yards. The Falcons have to do a better job protecting their rookie quarterback, who ate four sacks against the Saints.
The Ravens need at least one more win to secure a playoff spot, and they’ll benefit from a favorable matchup against a slumping opponent that doesn’t throw the ball any better than they do. We’ll see a lot of running in this one, with a far superior defense carrying the Ravens through. Ravens 16, Falcons 13
The Ravens need to run the ball and then do it some more until the Falcons defense ranking 26th in run defense efficiency overwhelmingly shows it’s stopping this ground game. The allure of throwing against a bad pass defense will only get Baltimore in trouble. Run the ball.
That said, Greg Roman acknowledged the Ravens haven’t run the ball particularly well inside the red zone, which is true. But they also haven’t passed the ball well in the red zone since the early weeks of the season. Again, run the ball.
Remember the good vibes entering the bye after wins at Tampa Bay and New Orleans? Per Sharp Football, the Ravens rank last in the NFL in points per drive (1.30) and have scored a touchdown on a league-worst 9.4% of possessions since then. Thank goodness for playing the NFC South.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Macdonald elects to have Marlon Humphrey travel with Falcons rookie wide receiver Drake London, who mostly lines up out wide. You’d certainly like to avoid having London match up against Brandon Stephens, who will be filling in for the injured Marcus Peters.
Frustration with a broken passing game is justified, but you’re not going to do better than Sammy Watkins — assuming Odell Beckham still isn’t healthy — at this late stage of the season. Like DeSean Jackson, Watkins might make a play or two, but durability concerns stunt any upside. This is desperation.
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Lamar Jackson (knee) hasn’t yet returned to practice, and the team is now dealing with the absence of its best defensive player, Calais Campbell (knee), and another wideout, Devin Duvernay (foot). With Tyler Huntley under center, the improved Ravens running game should be enough to control the clock against a Falcons defense that doesn’t have many answers. Desmond Ridder should improve over the stretch run, but Baltimore’s defense is stout and sound. Atlanta’s receivers are unlikely to be open, and Ridder’s accuracy issues popped up big time in his first start.
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Is this the week that Lamar Jackson comes back to save the season? He didn’t practice again Wednesday, so who knows. You wouldn’t think the Ravens would need him to beat the Falcons by more than seven points, but the offense didn’t look great even with him and the defense is inconsistent.
Desmond Ridder struggled in his debut for the Falcons, but they stayed true to what they do — run the ball with Cordarrelle Patterson and promising rookie Tyler Allgeier and use a lot of play action (45.7 percent). The Ravens rank 25th in defensive success rate vs. play action (47.7 percent.)
Baltimore did add veteran receiver Sammy Watkins, if you think they might get a boost. Among 116 WRs who have run 150-plus routes, Watkins ranks 72nd in yards/route (1.31) and 82nd in catch rate (59.1 percent).
I guess we’ll lay the points with the home team, but I am not thrilled about it.
The pick: Ravens -7
Week 16 NFL Picks Against the Spread - Sheil Kapadia
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
Lamar Jackson has not practiced this week, so it looks like the Ravens will roll with Tyler Huntley once again. They have to be kicking themselves for losing that game last week against the Browns; Baltimore had so many opportunities to put points on the board but just couldn’t get out of its own way. The good news? Running back J.K. Dobbins looked terrific, and the Ravens ran for 198 yards as a team, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
As for the Falcons, they competed to the end against New Orleans last week but ultimately fell short. Desmond Ridder looked very much like a rookie making his first career start, completing 13 passes for 97 yards.
There’s a scenario in which this is just an ugly, low-scoring game, both teams stick to the run all afternoon, and the Falcons keep it close. But this Ravens defense is a physical group that will likely force Ridder into a mistake at some point. I think Baltimore rebounds here.
The pick: Ravens (-7.5)