Predictions for Ravens vs. Titans
The Ravens remember the Titans, but say Sunday's meeting with Tennessee isn't a revenge game.
Multiple Ravens players made that point clear this week when asked about last season's shocking upset loss to the Titans in the AFC divisional round.
"The game is over with; it was last year," Lamar Jackson said. "We just fell short. We can't do anything about it. We're just going into this game trying to be 7-3 - that's all. We're not looking into it like a revenge game."
Even if the Ravens trounce the Titans Sunday, a regular-season victory would not erase a playoff defeat. That said, the rematch at M&T Bank Stadium does have high stakes.
Both teams are 6-3 and fighting to stay in playoff contention. Making this game even more important is the fact that the Ravens and Titans go on the road next week to face the first-place teams in their divisions - the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers and AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
The Ravens and Titans are both banged up and neither team has played its best football of late. Baltimore has dropped two of its past three games - including a bitter loss at New England this past Sunday night - and Tennessee has lost three of its past four after a 5-0 start.
The majority of pundits we looked at (34 of 44) believe the Ravens will prevail Sunday. Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:
The Ravens offense will get on track against a suspect Titans defense.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "The Ravens have offensive issues, but the best thing to fix that is this Tennessee defense. The Titans upset the Ravens in the playoffs last year, but this Titans team has major defensive issues. ... Ravens win it behind a good offensive showing."
Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: "The Ravens' offense is struggling this season, but the Titans' defense is struggling too, and I expect Lamar Jackson to have one of his better games in a Baltimore
CBS Sports' Brady Quinn: "If [the Ravens] are looking for a tonic to kill the illnesses in the passing game, and I know Marquise Brown and some of the other players are frustrated, well the Titans secondary is obviously the cure, because this group has struggled all year long. They haven't been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I think they'll struggle to stop the run, especially against Lamar Jackson outside on the edges. So this is a good spot for the Baltimore Ravens. They should be able to take advantage of a defense that's struggling. They should be able to get some of that pass game going."
Just like in last season's playoff game, the Ravens won't be able to stop Titans RB Derrick Henry.
CBS Sports' John Breech: "The biggest problem for the Ravens is that they've gotten worse since that game was played. The offense has regressed and the defense still can't stop the run, which you may or may not have noticed if you watched the Ravens play the Patriots on Sunday night. The Ravens are surrendering 4.5 yards per carry on the ground this year and I think we can all agree that that's not ideal when you're about to face a guy like Derrick Henry."
Turnovers (or lack thereof) could be a key factor.
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "The Titans have committed an NFL-low four turnovers this season and lead the league with a plus-10 turnover margin. ... This matters for Sunday, because the Titans' knack for ball security could put stress on the Ravens. Baltimore's NFL-long streak of 21 straight games with a takeaway ended during Sunday's loss to the Patriots, and by regularly generating turnovers and scores earlier in the year, the Ravens' defense relieved pressure on a struggling offense."
The Ravens' advantage on special teams could be the difference in the game.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has made just 12 of 20 field-goal attempts despite making six of seven from 50 yards or beyond. Punter Brett Kern is out with a wrist injury, and the Titans turned to Trevor Daniel, who hurt them with a 17-yard misfire against the Colts. The Titans have allowed 106 more return yards than they've produced. ... If the game is close, [the Ravens will] benefit from superior special teams."
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "The Titans better get their special teams act together. John Harbaugh, former special teams coordinator ... if there's any flaws, if there's any discrepancies, if there's any openings, it will be exploited by the Ravens, whether it's the missed field goals, the blocked punts, the bad punts. That's why they lost to the Colts last Thursday night."
The Truth About Lamar Jackson
Sometimes statistics don't tell the entire story. Such is the case, NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund says, with Jackson's 77.7 passer rating to receivers aligned wide, which is a significant decrease from last season's 99.9 figure.
"OK, I'm not saying that the statistic itself is fabricated. It's real," Frelund wrote. "What I'm saying is, anyone taking this sort of stat to single out Jackson for disparagement is doing it wrong. Let's get this out of the way: Lamar's not broken. The reigning MVP is not crashing back to earth."
Frelund came up with four key takeaways from her deep dive into the Jackson-led offense:
The number of plays Baltimore runs - and how they're sequenced - is quite similar, season over season.
"As in, Call X on first down followed by Call Y second and so on, in such a way that is a very repeatable pattern from game to game and also from last season to this one," Frelund wrote. "Sure there are some differences based on defensive looks, but even those follow a somewhat-regular pattern."
Key losses on the offensive line have been a factor.
"You can't lose a guard of the caliber of Marshal Yanda (and then, a LT like Ronnie Stanley) without a negative impact for at least some amount of time," Frelund wrote.
The Ravens chose to heavily invest on defense rather than offense this past offseason via free agency and the draft.
"They are actually realizing a return on the investment they made, with the NFL's top scoring D (18.3 ppg," Frelund wrote.
Jackson is now the focus of more defensive coordinators' goals.
"They're tailoring specific looks just to stop this offense," Frelund wrote. "The middle of the field has been more crowded this season than last. Looking at the part of the field where Jackson's intermediate and shorter passes travel shows that there are more closely covered potential pass catchers (by about 25 percent) than last season. Consequently, Jackson has been forced to take more attempts to receivers aligned wide: This accounts for 34 percent of his passes in 2020, as opposed to 27.7 in 2019. ... The Ravens quarterback has been less efficient in this area. Same story with the increased deep shots.
"So, going back to that original point, Jackson's decreased numbers aren't weird. It's the chess game. Defensive coordinators countered his MVP season by forcing him into the more challenging throws outside the numbers and downfield. Now he has to counter the counter. But I'm not betting against the electric 23-year-old - and I'm certainly not betting against his team. ... Count out Lamar and Co. at your own peril."
Yannick Ngakoue Ranked No. 2 in 2021 Free-Agency Class
ESPN ranked the 25 best free agents of the 2021 class, and Ravens defensive end Yannick Ngakoue came in at No. 2 behind Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Wil Ngakoue remain in Baltimore? ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes so. He predicted the Ravens will place the franchise tag on him.
"The Ravens won't let Ngakoue walk after giving up a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-rounder to Minnesota to acquire him in October," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore ultimately wants a long-term deal, but the team can't start negotiating until after the season because Ngakoue is playing under the franchise tag, which was placed on him by the Jaguars in March, before he was traded to the Vikings. Based on how the Ravens usually operate, they will tag Ngakoue after the season and try to hammer out an extension by July."
If the Ravens are seeking a No. 1 wide receiver via free agency, there will likely be several viable options. The Detroit Lions' Kenny Golladay (ranked No. 6 on the list), Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster (No. 7), and Chicago Bears' Allen Robinson (No. 11) could all be available.
ESPN predicted the Lions will use the franchise tag to retain Golladay, but that Smith-Schuster and Robinson will find new homes.
Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 13), who was one of the most highly coveted free agents this past offseason and has often been linked to the Ravens, will not be returning to Tennessee in 2021, ESPN predicted. Clowney has played in eight games for the Titans this season and is still looking for his first sack.
With the Ravens likely to activate a tight end off their practice squad for Sunday's game, NFL.com's Charley Casserly and Penn Live's Kasinitz took a look at the three candidates.