Dan Graziano, ESPN
Who is the league’s most important player for the next seven weeks?
I’ll say Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. They have a real opportunity to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC. (They occupy that spot at the moment.) Jackson hasn’t been healthy enough to finish either of the past two seasons, so first he has to show he can stay on the field. Second, he just lost his favorite receiving target, tight end Mark Andrews, to what likely is a season-ending ankle injury. He has to show he’s able to adapt as a passer and a team leader without Andrews.
I have no doubt about Jackson’s ability to do any of this. He’s as talented and dedicated as any player in the league, and Andrews told me in a conversation a couple of weeks ago that Jackson “has really taken it to another level as a leader this year, which I wouldn’t have thought he could do because he was already such a great leader.” A big stretch run for Jackson and the Ravens could lead to a second MVP award and possibly even the trophy he really craves — the Lombardi.
Gordon McGuinness, PFF
Baltimore has the seventh-hardest remaining schedule, the toughest of all current division leaders.
They are projected to win the AFC North 60% of the time, the lowest of every division leader outside of the New Orleans Saints.
Five of their final six games are against teams in the top half of the PFF power rankings.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: 3% TO WIN SUPER BOWL & 84% TO MAKE PLAYOFFS
The Browns have played the 11th-hardest schedule to date.
They have the 10th-hardest remaining schedule.
They are projected to win the AFC North 28% of the time.
Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic
“You could tell that in a game that has innumerable complexities you could draw up on a whiteboard, Joe D. knew that football players got better by playing football on a field,” Yates said. “His passion for teaching was hard to match.”
Wood acknowledged that most of the “old-school” offensive line coaches have “washed out” of the NFL, but not D’Alessandris. He’s as hard-driving as ever. He’s constantly coaching, congratulating or cajoling his linemen. He doesn’t let much go, either.
Whether it’s the middle of training camp during a sultry Baltimore summer or a December regular-season practice, D’Alessandris is a hard guy to miss. He’s the one in a short-sleeved black shirt, black shorts and black Nikes. He’s the guy in a lineman’s stance, observing and correcting.
“He’s as old school as it gets,” Ravens center Tyler Linderbaum said. “He’s always telling stories about working in the steel mills and stuff like that. I don’t know if there’s any other offensive line coach in the country that can talk about working the night shift at the steel mill.”
“This Ravens organization, these players, it’s family to me,” D’Alessandris said. “Those boys in that room, they’re my boys. I’ve got my children, my biological family, and I’ve got my family that I love here. I give them the best every day because I know they’re going to try to give me their best. That’s all I can ask for.”
Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
The Chargers rank last in pass defense, allowing opponents 6.9 yards per attempt. Even Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love, who has struggled all season, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns against them. The Chargers have plenty of star power in Bosa, linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Derwin James Jr. and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., but coach Brandon Staley, who calls the defense, has faced mounting criticism for the way he uses those pieces. The Chargers blitz on just 23% of dropbacks and have struggled to cover the middle of the field, Jackson’s favorite strike zone. The 32-year-old Mack (11 sacks, 12 quarterback hits) is their most productive pass rusher. Samuel has two interceptions and seven passes defended.
Justin Herbert (2,609 yards, 19 touchdowns, five interceptions) is one of the most gifted passers in the league but has started to face questions about his 29-30 career record as a starter. For all his arm strength, Herbert ranks middle of the pack in air yards per attempt and completion. He trails Jackson in completion percentage and yards per attempt. That said, the Chargers’ passing offense is their strength. They rank ninth in the league in converting third downs and second in converting red zone trips to touchdowns. Wide receiver Keenan Allen (83 catches on 113 targets, 1011 yards, seven touchdowns) remains impossible to cover at age 31. The Chargers miss injured wide receiver Mike Williams as a big-play target. Rookie first-round pick Quentin Johnston (20 catches on 34 targets, 183 yards) has not been the answer. Beyond relying on Allen as his clear No. 1 target, Herbert spreads the ball around. His offensive line, led by third-year left tackle Rashawn Slater, has done a solid job protecting him.
Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer
Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5)
I understand why Brandon Staley got testy after the Chargers’ loss last week to the Packers. He’s frustrated, and he probably sees the writing on the wall. I still think it’s a bad look for an NFL head coach.
Staley has been the Chargers’ coach for three seasons.
It’s not hard to identify strengths and weaknesses here. Staley is in charge of the defense, and the defense has been bad.
With the Chiefs’ loss on Monday night, the Ravens now own the 1-seed in the AFC playoff picture, but they have the fourth-hardest remaining schedule, according to the betting markets. There’s a scenario in which the Chargers get blown out here and we finally see them hit rock bottom, but Justin Herbert has been playing at a high level in recent weeks. I’ll go ahead and predict a competitive game. I look forward to regretting this immediately on Sunday night.
The pick: Chargers (+3.5)