Which Possible Divisional Round Opponent Is Biggest Threat To Ravens?

The Ravens enjoy a breather this weekend, a chance to sit back and watch four other AFC teams battle it out to see who will advance to the AFC divisional round next weekend. The highest rated of the four remaining seeds will visit the No. 2-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, while the lower-rated seed will visit the top-seeded Ravens on Jan. 11 at 8:15 p.m.

The Ravens can’t face the third-seeded New England Patriots in the divisional round; if the Patriots beat the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans, they will play at Kansas City. So the Ravens will face either the Titans or the winner of the game between the fourth-seeded Houston Texans and the fifth-seeded Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens have beaten both of those teams already this year en route to their 14-2 record, but as linebacker Matthew Judon noted, “It starts over. We are 0-0.” And all six teams that reached the postseason are capable of making a playoff run.

Here is a quick look at the Ravens’ three potential opponents next weekend, why the Ravens should win, and why they could lose:

No. 4 SEED HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6, AFC South champion)

Why the Ravens should win: They are the same team that routed the Texans, 41-7, in Week 11. After a slow start in which he completed just one of his first six passes, Lamar Jackson went 16-for-18 the rest of the way, throwing for 222 yards and four touchdowns. The Ravens piled up 256 rushing yards, with nearly 7 yards a carry. Gus Edwards led the way with 112 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run that closed out the scoring. The Texans’ defense ranks 28th overall and 25th against the run, not a good formula to beat this Ravens team.

The Ravens’ defense held the Texans scoreless for more than 50 minutes before a late 41-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson finished 18-for-29 for 169 yards and was sacked six times. Watson has held the ball too long at times, and overall this season, Texans quarterbacks have been sacked 49 times, the eighth-highest total in the league. The Texans also have 22 turnovers, most among AFC playoff teams.

Why the Ravens could lose: The Texans beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, 31-24, in Kansas City in Week 6; beat the third-seeded Patriots, 28-22; and lost to the 13-3 New Orleans Saints, 30-28, in the season opener on a 58-yard field goal at the buzzer. When they are on, they can play with anybody.

They are a stronger team than they showed at M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 17, and they will be highly motivated to show it. The tone of the game changed after an early fourth-down pass from Watson to receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone fell incomplete, with the Texans unsuccessfully challenging that cornerback Marlon Humphrey had committed pass interference.

Hopkins remains one of the league’s top offensive playmakers, with 104 catches for 1,165 yards. He had seven catches for 80 yards in the Week 11 matchup. Watson can be elusive, and Hyde is a 1,000-yard rusher. The Ravens didn’t have to deal with All-Pro linebacker J.J. Watt last time, but he is expected to return from a torn pectoral muscle this weekend.

No. 5 SEED BUFFALO BILLS (10-6, wild card)

Why the Ravens should win: They beat the Bills in Buffalo, so they should be able to handle them at home. In that 24-17 win in Week 13, Lamar Jackson threw for 145 yards and three touchdowns, including a 61-yard touchdown to Hayden Hurst. Top tight end Mark Andrews played just nine snaps in that game because of a first-quarter knee injury but should have a bigger role this time.

The Ravens got to mobile Bills quarterback Josh Allen, sacking him six times and holding him to 9 yards rushing. Former Raven John Brown, who topped 1,000 yards in his first season with the Bills, had a season-low 26 yards on three catches against the Ravens. Marcus Peters broke up a pass intended for Brown at the goal line to clinch the victory.

Why the Ravens could lose: Allen finished 17-for-39 for 146 yards, but he had some open targets downfield that he just missed in the windy weather. If he connected on a couple of those passes to Brown or others, it might have been a different game. The Bills have a top-10 run game, and Devin Singletary averaged more than 5 yards a carry, with 17 rushes for 89 yards, in the Week 13 meeting.

The Bills’ physical defense took its toll on the Ravens. Andrews left with an early injury, and Jackson was hammered a couple of times, sustaining a thigh bruise on his long touchdown pass to Hurst. The Bills showed they can neutralize the Ravens’ run game; the Ravens averaged just 3.6 yards a carry, one of two times this season they were held under 4 yards per rush.

No. 6 SEED TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7, wild card)

Why the Ravens should win: The Titans haven’t yet seen Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ record-setting offense, and as other teams have learned, it’s virtually impossible to simulate Jackson in practice. Current Titans and former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees got only a brief look last year at Jackson, who was still a backup when the Ravens went to Tennessee and overwhelmed the Titans, 21-0.

Tennessee’s defense has been middle of the pack, ranking 21st overall and 12th against the run. The Ravens and their three-headed run game of Jackson, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards could wear down the Titans’ defensive front.

The Ravens have the No. 5-ranked run defense in the league, and if they can get the Titans into obvious passing situations, their successful play-action passing game is rendered less effective, and that plays to the strength of the Ravens’ standout secondary.

The Ravens would appear to have a decided edge in the kicking game with Justin Tucker. The Titans have missed two extra-point kicks and have gone 8-for-18 on field-goal tries. They are on their fourth kicker in Greg Joseph, who was signed off the Carolina Panthers practice squad last month.

Why the Ravens could lose: Ryan Tannehill’s revival in Tennessee has been one of the stories of the season. The veteran quarterback threw 22 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 regular-season starts after replacing Marcus Mariota, leading the Titans to a 7-3 record after a 2-4 start. The Titans averaged 30.4 points in Tannehill’s starts. The Titans are playing with confidence and swagger, and if they are coming to Baltimore it means they have already gone to New England and slayed Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Titans running back Derrick Henry won the NFL rushing title with 1,540 rushing yards, and his perimeter run game could be a handful against a Ravens team that has occasionally struggled to set the edge. Rookie wide receiver A. J. Brown has become a game-changer, with 100-plus yards in four of his past six games. Safety Kevin Byard (five interceptions) and slot cornerback Logan Ryan (four interceptions) can be disruptive to Jackson and the Ravens passing game.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

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