AFC Divisional Round Matchup:
#5 Ravens at #2 Bills
(O/U 50, Bills -2.5)
Saturday, January 16, 5:15 PM PST (NBC)
The Ravens and the Bills square off in their first matchup this season and the second matchup between two young hotshot quarterbacks. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson lead the way for these two squads hoping to make it to the finals against Cleveland or Kansas City. With the finals on the horizon, how do these two squads win this AFC Divisional Round matchup? What are the Baltimore Ravens’ keys to victory (other than rage-induced logo-dancing) in the AFC Divisional Round? How do the Buffalo Bills, the 2.5 point favorite, stave off the hot Ravens squad?
How the Baltimore Ravens Win
Key Player: Lamar Jackson
No duh. Last week I wrote about how Lamar Jackson would be the key to their victory and not much has changed. His hideous interception in the first seemed to be the play that would set the tone for the game, but that was all before his 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. That tied the game at 10-10, and the Ravens never trailed again, winning 20-13. Jackson had just the one touchdown but had 315 total yards. The Ravens played ball control, handily winning that battle. They converted more than half of their third-down attempts, a lot of which was thanks to Lamar Jackson. The Ravens will, like always, will go as far as Lamar Jackson will take them.
Key Statistic: Turnover Differential
This one has a leg in both camps here, as both the Ravens and Bills tied for tenth in the league with a +4 turnover margin on the season (meaning they caused four more turnovers than they had). This will likely be the key to this game, as the Ravens rank highly on this statistic due to very few giveaways (tied for ninth-fewest in the league). The Bills, conversely, rank highly because they had the third-most takeaways (26) on the season. It’s a matchup of strength-on-strength, and whichever strength comes out on top (not giving the ball away versus taking the ball away) will win this AFC Wild Card matchup.
Key Position Group: Wide Receivers
The Ravens continued their trend last week of making Mark Ingram a healthy inactive. This has been the case for much of the strong run of the season, as Ingram has just 35 offensive snaps since week eleven of the season. The Ravens have shockingly instead turned to the passing game with increased frequency last week. Hollywood Brown, Mark Andrews, and Patrick Ricard combined for 19 targets, while the running backs combined for 18 touches. Granted, Lamar Jackson ran the ball sixteen times, so he continues to be an X-Factor, but the Ravens are starting to unleash their receivers a bit more. More specifically, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Brown has averaged over seven targets per game since week twelve, and the Ravens have gone 6-1 in that span, including the win last weekend against Tennesee.
How the Buffalo Bills Win
Key Player: Stefon Diggs
Last week, it was Josh Allen, this week, it’s Stefon Diggs. But, in the end, it’s the same connection that will lead the Bills to victory. Unfortunately, the Bills get their toughest test of the season so far: the Ravens’ secondary. The Ravens allow the lowest yards per target to wide receivers on the season and are the only team to allow fewer than 7 YPT to the position on the year. Stefon Diggs, on the flip side, has made mincemeat out of opposing defenses. He has a YPT figure under 7 in just four games this season, and in one of those, he scored a touchdown. He’s seemingly matchup proof and will need to come through huge if the Bills want to move on to the AFC Championship Game.
Key Statistic: Six-Straight Home Victories
The last time the Bills lost at home was twelve days before Halloween and have now won eight-of-nine games at home. Plus, they did all this without #BillsMafia in tow. New York’s government is allowing fans into Orchard Park, which gives them another leg up (that they can then use to power themselves through a folding table). The margin of victory wasn’t even all that close in most of these wins, either. The average final score in the six-game home winning streak is 34-23. Even without fans in the seats, home field worked, thanks to the good home cooking of some wings from [insert the Buffalo wing joint that gets me yelled at by the fewest western New Yorkers].
Key Position Group: Defensive Backs
As I outlined above, Marquise Brown has certainly come on lately. If the Bills’ defensive backfield can neutralize him, then it’s all over. The Ravens will end up back being a single-dimension team (running the football) that struggled mightily for most of the year. I noted above that the Ravens allowed the fewest yards per target this season… the Bills allowed the third-fewest yards per target. The Bills allowed just an extra nine inches per target this year as compared to the Ravens. It was an extra 3.1 yards per game through the air that made the difference. It’s a razor-thin margin that separates these two pass defenses.