Giana Han & Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner
Best moment: Tylan Wallace’s game-winning TD vs. the Rams
When Ravens training camp wrapped up, the reserve wide receiver didn’t know whether he was a lock for the team’s 53-man roster. When top returner Devin Duvernay left the Week 14 game against Los Angeles with a back injury, Wallace stepped in despite never having returned returned a punt in an NFL game. And when Wallace got the opportunity to set the Ravens up for a potentially game-winning drive, he went the distance himself. Wallace’s walk-off 76-yard return, now known as the “Ty-Breaker,” sent M&T Bank Stadium into hysterics and handed the Ravens a 37-31 win.
Best free-agent signing: Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney was a latecomer to training camp, but he made an impact early in the season. After the Ravens started the year with a slew of injuries at outside linebacker, their pass rush and run defense barely missed a step — thanks, in large part, to Clowney. Once more help arrived, Clowney remained an important contributor. And in Saturday’s loss to the Steelers, he got to celebrate a $750,000 incentive that was well earned after he reached a career-high 9.5 sacks.
Most impressive team stat: Defense’s triple crown
The Ravens finished the regular season with 31 takeaways, 60 sacks and 16.5 points allowed per game, all of which led the NFL. It is the first time in modern NFL history that a team has finished first in all three categories, and it’s another nice line in coordinator Mike Macdonald’s head coaching resume.
Ryan Mink, BaltimoreRavens.com
Seth Walder & Jamison Hensley, ESPN
1. Baltimore Ravens (13-4)
Odds to win Super Bowl: +325
FPI chance to make Super Bowl: 54.8%
Reason for hope: The Ravens have played their best against the best. With quarterback Lamar Jackson, Baltimore has gone 7-1 against teams that entered the game with a winning record. Baltimore creates so many matchup problems with the combination of Jackson’s unique playmaking style and the stingiest defense in the league. In December, the Ravens routed three division leaders — the Jaguars, 49ers and Dolphins — by an average of 22.3 points. “We play a brand of football that people don’t want to play,” Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen said.
Reason for concern: The Ravens’ unsettling playoff track record. Since 2018, Baltimore has the NFL’s second-best record in the regular season (66-32) and one of the worst marks in the postseason, losing four of its five playoff games. Jackson has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions in the postseason, and his 41.5 Total QBR in the playoffs is the worst among quarterbacks who have played at least three playoff games over the past five years. The only other time the Ravens were a No. 1 seed was in 2019, when they were upset by the Titans in the divisional round.
Stat to know: Zay Flowers has a key attribute that the Ravens needed: He gets open. The rookie wideout already ranked 15th out of 106 wide receivers in open score (72) entering Week 18. The improved play at wide receiver (including but not exclusive to Flowers) this season has been crucial to Baltimore’s improved offensive play. Especially with tight end Mark Andrews out (ankle), Flowers has played and will play a key role getting open for Jackson.
The First Read: What to like, dislike about all 14 NFL playoff teams; final MVP rankings for 2023 season
Jeffri Chadiha, NFL.com
What to like: The Ravens claimed the title of the league’s best team with their stellar play over the past month. They mailed in the regular-season finale by resting key starters in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh, but the previous two weeks cemented them as favorites to make this year’s Super Bowl. They blew out Miami by 37 points. They went into San Francisco and beat a dominant 49ers team by 14. Baltimore also has the likely Most Valuable Player (quarterback Lamar Jackson is in position to take that award for the second time in his career) leading the best offense he’s ever had around him, a defense that was the stingiest in the league and excellent special teams. Baltimore exploded on the rest of the NFL in the second half of the season. It now has its best chance to win a championship since Jackson arrived in 2018.
What not to like: Recent playoff history. The only reason anybody would question the Ravens is their lack of postseason success lately. They held the No. 1 seed in 2019 — back when Jackson won his first MVP award — and promptly suffered a painful upset to Tennessee in the Divisional Round. Baltimore also has only one playoff win with Jackson, and it’s hard to forget how injuries compromised him and this team at the end of the last two seasons. I get it — every year is different. The Ravens had better hope that is indeed the case once they finish their first-round bye and start playing again in a couple weeks.
Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
1. Cleveland Browns
This is the matchup that has kept Ravens fans up at night since Flacco emerged as the Saint of Lake Erie. The narrative winds will whip if Flacco returns to Baltimore with a chance to end his former team’s dream season. He has played well, no question, but his lack of mobility and high interception rate would not serve him well against a Ravens defense that leads the league in sacks and takeaways. Of greater concern is Cleveland’s defense, which has held up as one of the league’s best despite a slew of injuries. The Browns picked off Jackson twice and sacked him three times in their Nov. 12 win in Baltimore. The Browns out-rushed the Ravens 178 yards to 106 that day. Cleveland’s upside can’t match what we saw from the Ravens in their wins over the 49ers and Dolphins, but there’s no reason to think Flacco, Myles Garrett and company would be dispatched with ease.
2024 NFL playoffs: Ranking all 14 teams to make the postseason, from dynamic Ravens to deflated Eagles
Cody Benjamin, CBS Sports
1. Ravens (13-4)
They’ve got all the ingredients of a true championship contender: a dynamic QB in Lamar Jackson who’s slinging it with effortless accuracy and can escape trouble with his legs, an experienced coach in John Harbaugh who’s been to the big stage before, and a fast, physical defense that can affect the ball at every level. They should be favored in every matchup.