John Macon Gillespie, Sports Illustrated
Rams head coach Sean McVay is no stranger to facing Jackson, dropping a home game against Baltimore 45-6 in the 2019 season. McVay commented on what he expects to see from the electric playmaker on Sunday, and he painfully reminisced on their previous meeting.
“He was awesome,” McVay said. “He’s a great player. He’s been a great player, explosive playmaker. He is doing a lot of really good things this year. That was not a fond memory for the Rams in 2019, but he did his thing when you look at it. It was like clockwork, and it was his MVP year, but he’s consistently played great throughout the course of his career.”
“They’re a great team,” McVay said. “They’re as complete a team as there is in this league, and when you’ve got the right guy at the switch, which they certainly do, it’s that much more difficult to try to come away with the result that you’re hunting up, but it’s what you love about the NFL. Great challenge.”
Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
Matthew Stafford seems recovered from the thumb injury that hampered him in November and remains a dynamic passer at age 35. He threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday against the Browns. Stafford has found a new favorite receiver in rookie Puka Nacua, who already has 77 catches on 118 targets for 1,029 yards in 12 games. Nacua seems to create separation no matter who’s covering him and has supplanted Cooper Kupp, who has averaged just 27.7 receiving yards over his past six games as he’s battled hamstring and ankle injuries. Former Raven Demarcus Robinson produced his best game of the season against the Browns with four catches for 55 yards. Stafford gets rid of the ball quickly and has taken a modest 20 sacks in 11 games.
The Rams are known as a pass-first team because of Stafford and their prolific receivers, but they have actually been more efficient on the ground this year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and ranking eighth in rush DVOA. They have moved away from coach Sean McVay’s vaunted outside zones to a gap scheme that emphasizes power and uses motion to create double teams at the point of attack. Kyren Williams has averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 85.9 yards per game. Backup Royce Freeman has been nearly as good, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Right guard Kevin Dotson creates space for them as one of the sport’s best run blockers.
Blair Young, WBAL
The Rams’ offense has been clicking lately, scoring and averaging over 35 points the past couple of weeks. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has recaptured his Super Bowl-winning form with seven touchdowns and only one interception. The Ravens will be tested, especially in the secondary, but with a couple of weeks to prepare, they should be able to take care of another NFC opponent at home.
The Rams still have one of the best players on defense in future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, who leads them in sacks (6) and can single-handedly take over a game. Second-year center Tyler Linderbaum and the rest of the interior linemen will have their hands full but will not shy away from the challenge of facing Donald. Luckily for them, they will be at full strength along the offensive line, with all starters practicing fully Wednesday.
“You have to know where he’s at, at all times, and try to get as many people blocking him as you can for as long as you can, which is a tall order. He’s probably the greatest to ever play at that position. So, he’s definitely that, but it’s not just him; they have just quite a few really good players on defense,” Harbaugh said.
Vic Tafur, The Athletic
I have been guilty of sleeping on Puka Nacua. The fifth-round pick out of BYU is more than a cute story; he is a dynamic playmaker who was the biggest reason the Rams beat the Browns last week. And that was after he left the game with shoulder and rib injuries and came back in. Nacua became the third player this season to reach 20-plus mph on both a carry and a reception in a single game (Tyreek Hill in Week 12, Deebo Samuel in Week 13) and is the first rookie to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards by Week 13 since Justin Jefferson.
With Cooper Kupp, Nacua gives Sean McVay two great route runners who he can move around and create space for yards after the catch. And Kyren Williams runs well enough to keep defenses honest. The Ravens are coming off a bye with games on deck against the Jaguars, 49ers and Dolphins, so they might not be totally locked in.
The pick: Rams
Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer
The good news for the Ravens: They are coming off of their bye in a nice spot, tied for the best record in the AFC, at 9-3. The bad news: They have the fifth-hardest remaining schedule, according to the betting markets. The Ravens host the Rams this week before road games at Jacksonville and San Francisco. They then return home to face the Dolphins and Steelers. If the Ravens want to get the 1-seed, they’ll really have to earn it.
The Rams played well last week in their win over the Browns. We’ve seen over and over again that when they’re healthy on offense, they can be dangerous. I said a couple of weeks ago that I think the Rams will make the playoffs, and I’m feeling good about that prediction.
Having said that, this is a tough spot for them. The Ravens are 18-1 (!) in games Lamar Jackson has started against NFC opponents. They played the Lions and Seahawks at home earlier this season and won those games by a combined score of 75-9. I think special teams could be a big factor here. The Ravens have Justin Tucker, while the Rams added longtime Packers kicker Mason Crosby this week and are looking to solve their field goal issues. Baltimore can win in different ways and overcome mistakes. I don’t think the same is true of the Rams here.
The pick: Ravens (-7.5)