WHO: Baltimore Ravens (10-2) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)
WHERE: New Era Field
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019,1 p.m. EST
The Ravens take an eight-game winning streak and the AFC’s No. 1 seeding to Buffalo this weekend in a game with major playoff implications.
The Ravens are in the midst of a stretch of prosperity without equal in the history of their franchise. Not only have they won eight straight regular-season games for the first time ever, but in the last six games they have won on the road at Seattle, beaten both teams that played in last year’s Super Bowl, routed the AFC South leader, and beaten the team with the best record in the NFC.
For all of that, though, if the Ravens lose this game, they could possibly lose their No. 1 seeding. The Bills, meanwhile, are on the verge of their first 10-win season in 20 years.
As the Ravens try to hold on to the AFC’s top seeding and extend their record winning streak, here are three key matchups to watch:
Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters or Jimmy Smith vs. Bills WR John Brown
Humphrey said this week that he had a lot of good battles with Brown on the practice field last year in Brown’s one season as a Raven and that, “to get another go in live-game reps will be really exciting.” Humphrey has been playing at a Pro Bowl level this year, and the first field-goal block of his career last year adds to a lengthy list of splash plays. He ranks third on the team with 48 tackles and has a team-high nine passes defensed.
More recently, though, the Ravens have played Humphrey in the slot, leaving Peters and Smith on the outside, where they are more likely to deal with Brown. Peters struggled against the 49ers Dec. 1, but his impact has been well established in his short time with Baltimore, and he’d love to bait Bills second-year quarterback Josh Allen into a big mistake.
Smith has been steady, with 18 tackles and an interception in five games since returning from a knee injury.
Brown leads the Bills in receptions (61) and receiving yards (882) and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said, “John is their guy. He’s the guy downfield. He’s the guy on the crossing route. … He’s just been an explosive factor for them.”
Ravens WR Marquise Brown vs. Bills CB Tre’Davious White
Brown had his quietest day of the season last week, with one catch for one yard, as the 49ers’ defense and Mother Nature both did a good job diminishing the Ravens’ downfield passing game.
Brown leads all Ravens wide receivers with 36 catches for 520 yards and six touchdowns, and he by far represents the Ravens most potent downfield threat. Look for the Ravens to find ways to get him the ball, either deep or short.
White, a first-round pick in 2017 out of LSU, figures to draw the assignment against Brown. White is tied for third in the league with four interceptions and ranks second in the league with 15 passes defensed. He also has 54 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles.
Ravens OLB Jaylon Ferguson vs. Bills LT Dion Dawkins or RT Cody Ford
Ferguson has come on strong during the past month, and the third-round rookie had a career-high five tackles against the Los Angeles Rams Nov. 25. He now has 21 tackles and one sack. But last week, Ferguson struggled to set the edge as the 49ers piled up 174 rushing yards.
The Bills rank fifth in the league in rushing with 137.9 yards a game, and they surely saw on tape how the 49ers were able to pile up yardage to the outside. Dawkins, a third-year player out of Temple, is the No. 21-ranked tackle according to Pro Football Focus. Ford is a rookie out of Oklahoma who has started 11 of 12 games at right tackle.
Ferguson will need to set the edge against the run but also pressure and contain quarterback Josh Allen, a 6-foot-5, 237-pounder who has 430 rushing yards, third-most in the league among quarterbacks. “He’s a big kid, man,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “He’s like tackling a tight end scrambling.”
The Ravens have traveled will this year, winning at Seattle and at Pittsburgh en route to a 5-1 road record, so they shouldn’t be rattled by a tough atmosphere in Buffalo, where the weather is expected to be relatively benign for upstate New York in December. (Cloudy, 40s.)
Led by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens offense remains the league’s toughest to defend, and they vow to tighten up defensively after being shredded for 174 yards on the ground last week. If this game comes down to special teams, Justin Tucker always gives the Ravens an edge. Ravens 26, Bills 20.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox