WHO: New York Jets (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (11-2)
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium
WHEN: Thursday, Dec.12, 8:20 p.m. EST
The Ravens return home for a prime-time matchup with their franchise-record regular-season winning streak at nine games, and for just the second time in the past eight weeks, they face a team with a losing record.
The Jets, though, have won four of their past five games, and the Ravens should have plenty of motivation: With a win, the Ravens would clinch the AFC North title for the second straight year and keep a firm hold on the No. 1 seeding position in the AFC with two games to play.
As the Ravens look to remain undefeated in Thursday night home games under head coach John Harbaugh (they are 6-0), here are three key matchups to watch:
Ravens LT James Hurst vs. Jets OLB Jordan Jenkins
The Ravens are expected to be without starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who has not practiced this week while dealing with a concussion sustained in the game at Buffalo Dec. 8. Stanley has been playing at an All-Pro level this year, rated No. 4 among all tackles and No. 1 in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus.
If Stanley can’t go — he’s officially listed as doubtful — then Hurst likely will step in for his first start of the season. The six-year veteran has shown his versatility throughout the years with 42 starts, including 19 at left guard, 14 at left tackle, seven at right tackle and two as an extra tight end.
“I know he’ll fill in and do a great job,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “So we want Ronnie back, but we have James. We’re going to be good.”
Jenkins, a 2016 third-round pick out of Georgia, has 26 tackles and a team-high seven sacks after registering a pair in the Jets’ 22-21 win against the Miami Dolphins Dec. 8. He also has 12 quarterback hits, and Gregg Williams’ Jets defense figures to be aggressive in trying to make Jackson uncomfortable.
Ravens WR Marquise Brown vs. Jets CB Bless Austin
The Jets have the No. 2-ranked run defense in the league, and they probably saw how the Buffalo Bills were able to stymie the Ravens’ run game by aggressively stacking the box and trying to contain Jackson and running back Mark Ingram.
The best way to counter that would for the Ravens to connect on a couple of downfield shots, something they failed to do at Buffalo in windy, cold weather. Jackson was 1-for-6 last week on passes thrown more than 10 yards.
Brown remains the Ravens biggest deep threat, though he has been quiet the past few weeks. In the past two games, he totaled four catches for a net of minus-1 yard and has not had a catch of longer than 20 yards in the past four games.
The Jets secondary has been fluid and Austin, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Rutgers, has started the past four games after being activated from the non-football-injury list.
Ravens ILB Josh Bynes or S Chuck Clark vs. Jets RB Le’Veon Bell
The Ravens’ run defense has looked shaky of late, particularly to the outside, and the Jets figure to give plenty of touches to Bell, the longtime Ravens nemesis in his first season in New York.
Bynes has been one of the compelling stories of this Ravens season, signed essentially off his couch after Week 4 to solidify the run defense. He has delivered, with 39 tackles, including four for loss.
Clark has emerged as a key defensive leader this year, a hybrid safety-linebacker who wears the defensive headset helmet and has played all but one defensive snap in the past eight games. Clark will be one of the keys to stopping the patient running of Bell while also dealing with him as a target out of the backfield.
Bell, a two-time All-Pro with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is back after missing last week’s game because of illness. He leads the Jets with 183 carries for 589 yards and also has 55 catches for 403 yards. Including rushing and receiving, Bell has averaged 121.5 yards per game in his career, the third-best in NFL history among players with at least 50 games played.
On the one hand, a letdown by the Ravens would be somewhat understandable as for just the second time in the past two months they are facing a team without playoff aspirations, and on a short week no less. On the other hand, this is a home prime-time game, the AFC North title is there to be had and the No. 1 AFC seeding remains theirs to keep. That should be plenty of motivation.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has played better over the past month, but a Jets team that is probably short on talent this season is also dealing with a rash of key injuries, including Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams, who is doubtful. That is not a good recipe for springing an upset. Ravens 26, Jets 13.
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