Bill Barnwell, ESPN
Preseason playoff chances: 60%
Current playoff chances: 91.5%
The Ravens are actually running the ball slightly more often on early downs in 2023 than they were last season, having dropped from 12th in neutral pass rate to 15th.
Jackson is thriving as an intermediate passer. On passes traveling 10 to 20 yards in the air, his 96.7 QBR is both a career high and the NFL’s best mark. He’s completing nearly 80% of those throws, averaging more than 14 yards per attempt, and has an off-target rate of just 5.1%, all of which lead the league. He’s also completing nearly five of these passes per game after averaging 3.5 per game from 2019 to 2022. On Sunday, he went 7-for-7 on these passes for 151 yards, seven first downs and a touchdown.
Jackson has thrived on play-action despite some decline in Baltimore’s rushing attack. The Ravens rank 11th in success rate when running the ball, down from fourth over the previous four seasons. In part, that’s because they have taken Jackson out of the designed run game outside of the red zone. From 2019 to ‘22, he averaged 5.4 designed runs per game across the first 80 yards of the field.
This season, Jackson’s averaging just over half as many designed runs per game outside of the red zone as he had in years past.
Jeff Kerr, CBS Sports
3. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
While it took seven weeks for the Ravens offense to have that breakout game, Lamar Jackson and the offense exploded with 38 points and 503 total yards in a blowout victory over the Detroit Lions (who were 5-1 heading into the game). Jackson looks primed for his second MVP award as he has arguably his best cast of pass catchers since he came to Baltimore. The Ravens are still a top rushing offense, ranking third in the league in yards per game and rushing touchdowns.
Baltimore’s defense can stake the claim as the best in the NFL, ranking first in points per game allowed and second in yards per game allowed. The Ravens have allowed just 10.5 points per game and 256.3 yards per game over the last four games, playing at an elite level.
If Jackson can stay healthy, the Ravens are the biggest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC. They’ve limped to the finish line over the last two seasons, but this team appears to be too talented for that to happen again. Again, this all comes down to Jackson staying on the field.
Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
The Cardinals cannot be happy to see Jackson coming to town after Seattle’s Geno Smith beat them efficiently, completing 18 of 24 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona has the league’s second worst pass defense by DVOA, allowing 6.8 yards per pass attempt. The Cardinals blitz on just 20.9% of dropbacks and rank last in pressure percentage, per Pro-Football-Reference, a bad formula against Jackson. Outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck has been their most productive pass rusher with four sacks and six quarterback hits. Marco Wilson and rookie Kei’Trel Clark grade among the most vulnerable cornerbacks in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker requested a trade earlier this year but played every snap against the Seahawks after spending the previous four weeks on injured reserve.
The Cardinals don’t defend the run well either, allowing 4.4 yards per carry and ranking 29th in rush defense DVOA. Linebacker Kyzir White is their top tackler, but defensive tackles Jonathan Ledbetter and Leki Fotu have played poorly. The Cardinals gave up 179 rushing yards to the Los Angeles Rams and 185 to the Dallas Cowboys.
Letdown or no letdown, the Ravens will go into Arizona with a significant talent advantage. Jackson will have plenty of time to find open targets against a defense that struggles to create pressure. The Cardinals, with just 55 points in their past four games, won’t have the firepower to keep up. Ravens 31, Cardinals 16
Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer
Baltimore Ravens at Arizona Cardinals (+8.5)
The case for the Ravens here: They look like one of the NFL’s most complete teams. Lamar Jackson is carving defenses up from the pocket and still creating amazing second-reaction plays. Their defense has been outstanding. Their kicking game is elite. And they’re well coached.
The case for the Cardinals here: They’re the contrarian pick. They’ve lost four straight games by 10-plus points each. Who on earth would put actual money on them at this point?
I generally love being on the “nobody is going to take this team” side, but I have no interest in being a contrarian here. If the Ravens turn the ball over and the Cardinals make some plays on special teams to keep this one close, I’ll live with the loss.
The pick: Ravens (-8.5)
Vic Tafur, The Athletic
The Ravens offense finally showed up last week and destroyed a good Lionsdefense. They should be able to carry that over to the desert this week. The Cardinals have blitzed on an NFL-low 8.2 percent of opponent dropbacks, and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson loves that. He leads the NFL with a 110.2 passer rating against a standard rush with a league-best 77.0 percent completion percentage on such throws. It’s a big point spread on the road and while I like the spirit of Cardinals QB Joshua Dobbs — he has done all you can ask of a guy picked up by his sixth team two weeks before the season — I don’t think he has a good enough day against the Ravens’ second-ranked defense.
The pick: Ravens