AFC Wild Card Matchup:
#5 Ravens (11-5) at #4 Titans (11-5)
Sunday, January 10, 10:05 AM PST (ABC)
Redemption? The Empire Strikes Back? Whatever you want to call it, the Titans and Ravens square off for the second time in the playoffs in the last 12 months. The Ravens and Titans square off in very different circumstances. Last year, the Ravens were a buzzsaw making their way through the NFL. The Titans were hot upstarts thanks to the talent infusion from replacing Marcus Mariota with Ryan Tannehill. The Titans took down that matchup, shocking the world. The Ravens and Titans squared off earlier this year, with the Titans winning 30-24. How does round three go? How can the Ravens win this AFC Wild Card matchup? And how do the Titans win this AFC Wild Card matchup?
How the Baltimore Ravens Win
Important Player: Lamar Jackson
Of course, it’s Lamar Jackson. The Ravens’ signal-caller is the key to everything for the Ravens both last season and this season. There’s a clear dividing line where his play escalated, and with it, the Ravens’ five-game winning streak. Prior to this streak, the Ravens were 6-4 in L-Jax starts (he missed a game from a COVID-19 scare). In those starts, he paced out for 3,117 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 10 picks (along with 920 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns). During the five-game winning streak, (including a stop off partway through the Cleveland Monday Night Football Game). During the last five games, he’s paced out for 3,965 yards, 48 total touchdowns, and ten picks. The yardage is near identical, but the touchdown pace has doubled. That’s exactly the firepower the Ravens need to win on Sunday.
To maintain my sanity, I will not talk about the Ravens’ WRs being physically incapable of catching a pass in last year’s playoff game.
Important Statistic: Third Down Conversion Rate
This is an interesting one because it’s a twofer that goes both directions, both for and against the Ravens. Both the Baltimore offense and the Tennessee Titans offense rank in the top-five in third-down conversion rate, with Baltimore converting about 49% of third downs, and the Titans converting about 46% of them. Where this becomes interesting is the third round conversion defense.
The Ravens stop third-down conversions at the second-best rate in the league, with just 34% of third downs going against the Ravens defense converting into first downs. On the other side of the field, the Titans allow 52% of third downs to become first downs. That figure is literally the worst in the league. This game likely comes down to whoever converts more tough third downs, and the math says that the Ravens have a significant advantage in this department.
Important Position Group: Running Backs
Last year we saw during the playoffs that the Ravens wide receivers will betray Lamar Jackson. They mostly aren’t that good. But, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have really kicked it up a notch recently.
You can see that the Ravens put Mark Ingram to the side and made it the Dobbins and Edwards show. Not only did the Ravens win five-straight games with this strategy, they also did it by riding Dobbins and Edwards. They combined to pace out to a combined 2,719 yards during the streak. The Ravens are going to ride these two and Lamar Jackson as far as they can go.
How the Tennessee Titans Win
Important Player: Derrick Henry
Obviously, it’s Derrick Henry. He’s the steam engine that makes the Tennessee Titans go. They rode him the last two times the Titans took on the Ravens, Henry totaled an insane 61 touches. Coincidentally, the Titans won both games thanks to Henry’s Herculean efforts running the football for them. He has 334 rushing yards in the last two games against the Baltimore Ravens (this season and last year’s playoff game). It will be a long day for the Ravens defense, who missed the second-most tackles this season (behind the Raiders) en route to allowing the seventh-highest yards per carry in the NFL.
Important Statistic: Turnover Differential
The Tennessee Titans sit atop the entire league in this category. Really, this is the most important statistic in most games, but the Titans and Ravens are both very good at causing turnovers and very good at limiting turnovers. It proved to be the Ravens’ downfall the last time these two teams met in the playoffs. The Titans did not commit a single turnover, while the Ravens committed three. That put the Ravens in a hole that Lamar Jackson could not free himself from last season. If the Titans want to win this AFC Wild Card matchup, they will do the same this season.
Important Position Group: Wide Receivers
A big reason for the Titans’ success this season was the continued growth of the wide receiver corps. Specifically, I refer to A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. Brown set his mark on the league as one of the top young wide receivers in the NFL. His calling card—yards after the catch—was on full display in 2020. He ranked third in yards after the catch for wide receivers, and he had five 30+ yard touchdown plays. That put him sixteenth among teams. Obviously, Tyreek Hill led this statistic with six such plays.
But we all hope and expect A.J. Brown to be good. The exciting part about 2020 for the Titans’ wide receivers is Corey Davis’ emergence as a quality option for Ryan Tannehill. In his first three seasons, Davis averaged just 44.45 yards per game. The former top-ten pick was on an express train to Bustville. But, in 2020, he turned it all around. Davis missed time with a COVID-19 scare (as most Titans did) but ended the year averaging 4.5 catches for 70 yards, on a 71% catch rate. He finally looked, and played, like the solid wide receiver the Titans drafted.