Last weekend’s “Super Wild Card Weekend” is behind us. The dust has settled and we are left with the 1, 2, 5, and 6 seeds in both the AFC and NFC. The Divisional Round kicks off with the LA Rams taking on the Green Bay Packers in the “Battle of the Aarons”. The scene then shifts to Buffalo for the primetime matchup between two of the best young quarterbacks in the game. The 2018 Draft Class will be on full display as Lamar Jackson leads his Baltimore Ravens into Orchard Park, NY to take on Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills.
Ground and Pound?
Baltimore’s Ground Game
For the visiting Ravens, there are PLENTY of options to move the ball on the ground. The three headed monster of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Mark Ingram has caused problems for opposing defenses all season long. Even if you take Ingram out of the equation (he was a healthy scratch against Tennessee), you still have to contend with Jackson’s ability to turn upfield if he can’t find an open receiver.
The Ravens closed out the regular season by setting an NFL record – racking up the most rushing yards in a five game span in history. They added 236 more yards to that tally last week. The Bills will need to find a way to slow these guys down if they hope to emerge victorious.
Unlike the Ravens, the Bills come into this matchup a bit dinged up. The backfield duo of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss has been serviceable all season long. Both backs showed promise at times during the regular season, but neither one really broke out as expected – at least not consistently. Things have gotten more challenging having lost Moss to injury during the Wild Card Game last week. The team signed former NY Giant DeVonta Freeman to add some depth, but it’ll likely be Singletary carrying the load out of the backfield. He’ll need to step up and be effective in order to keep the pressure off Josh Allen. Of course, Allen himself poses a threat on the ground much the same way Jackson does.
This game could be decided by whichever stable of runners is more successful. Of course, if running the rock proves difficult…
Take To The Air
Buffalo’s Air Assault
If Baltimore has the edge in the run game, there’s no doubt that the Bills have the advantage in the passing game. Maybe the best thing to happen to the Bills offense this season was adding Stefon Diggs. He has found a special chemistry with Allen and the results have been outstanding. Diggs caught 127 passes for a total of 1,535 yards and 8 TD. Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, John Brown, and Isaiah McKenzie give Allen a plethora of other options at wide receiver. Add in the TE trio of Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, and Lee Smith and you can understand how the Bills rank near the top of the league in the passing game. They finished 3rd in passing yards (4,786), T-3rd in receiving TDs (40), and T-4th in Yds/Att (8).
Baltimore’s Aerial Threat
Conversely, the Ravens’ pass game leaves a lot to be desired. Jackson finished the season with only 2,757 yards (as opposed to 4,544 for Allen). Not one of his receivers had more than 800 yards. Marquise Brown led the way with 769. Tight End Mark Andrews was the only other receiver with over 700 receiving yards (701 total). Of course, when you have the kind of success in the run game that this team had, you don’t really need to throw the ball as much.
Keys To Victory
These two teams are both powerhouses in their own way. Who comes out on top could come down to a few different things and how they play out during the game:
Time of Possession
Can Baltimore put together some long drives and manage to keep Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs off the field? Will Buffalo’s defense, which hasn’t been great against the run, be able to contain Lamar Jackson enough to force him to throw more?
Buffalo was the best offense in the NFL on third down this season, converting 49.7% of the time. The Ravens were the second-best third down defense (34% opponent conversion). Whoever wins on third down could very well advance to the Championship Game.
If all other things remain equal and these teams keep each other close, the outcome could be determined by any number of other factors. Who wins the turnover battle? Does someone go down with an injury? Will the weather play a role?
Whatever ends up happening, this should be a high octane matchup – and a taste of what could be two powerhouse teams atop the AFC for years to come.
I expect a close, high scoring game. It could very well come down to who has the ball at the end. I like the Bills Mafia to continue enjoying their postseason run. Bills 27, Baltimore 24
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