While the Ravens are enjoying their bye, there’s plenty to learn from the NFL’s Week 8 schedule about how the rest of Baltimore’s season might play out. Here are five games for Ravens fans to watch:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
This one is fairly obvious. The Ravens and Bengals have leapt to the front of the AFC North race at 5-2, but the Steelers (3-3) and Browns (4-3) aren’t too far behind.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is dealing with a shoulder injury but will start after Case Keenum led Cleveland to a 17-14 win over the Broncos last Thursday. A few extra days of rest should help the Browns, who are dealing with a banged-up roster and might be without defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and cornerback Denzel Ward, who all missed practice Wednesday.
The Steelers are coming off their bye and should be relatively healthy as they seek their third straight win. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was limited Wednesday with a hip/pectoral injury, will need to pick up his play for Pittsburgh to defend its division title. He ranks 23rd in Total QBR and is averaging just 6.4 yards per attempt.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
If the Colts had held onto a 16-point fourth-quarter lead over the Ravens in Week 5, they might be riding a four-game winning streak right now. They’ll have to settle for three wins in the past four weeks after losing to the Titans, 25-16, in Week 3.
Since that 0-3 start, Indianapolis (3-4) has climbed to 15th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, ahead of other AFC contenders such as the Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders and Titans. Sunday’s matchup against Tennessee is pivotal for the Colts’ playoff chances, as they can close the gap in the AFC South race.
Tennessee (5-2) is just as hot of late, winning three straight over the Jaguars, Bills and Chiefs after an inexplicable 27-24 overtime loss to the Jets. A win Sunday would give the Titans the tiebreaker over the Colts and a three-game lead in the division.
New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
The Chargers (4-2) haven’t taken the field since their 34-6 loss to Ravens in Week 6, so Sunday will be the first chance to learn if that game was a warning sign for Los Angeles’ playoff hopes or just a bad week at the office.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert faces another big test in the form of New England’s defense, which ranks 14th in DVOA. Herbert was held in check by a Baltimore defense that has given up more passing yards through the first seven games than any other team in franchise history, so he’ll need to prove he’s ready for whatever coach Bill Belichick and Co. throw at him.
The Patriots’ Mac Jones, meanwhile, has performed the best of any rookie quarterback, ranking third in the league in completion rate (70.4%). In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Jones has more big-time throws (passes with excellent ball location and timing, usually further down the field) this season than Herbert, who received Most Valuable Player buzz through the first six weeks.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 8:20 p.m.)
The Ravens host the Vikings next week, so here’s your chance to do a little advanced scouting.
Minnesota (3-3) has won three of its past four to climb back into playoff contention in the NFC, thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The former Washington starter has the league’s fifth-highest passing grade, according to PFF, and is tied with Kyler Murray for the fourth-most completed passes of 20 yards or more this season (25).
The Vikings’ defense has been strong, too, ranking sixth in DVOA. Led by two-time Pro Bowl selection Danielle Hunter and a rejuvenated Everson Griffen, Minnesota leads the league in pressure rate at 32.1%. Former Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce is also playing well after sitting out 2020 because of COVID concerns, recording two sacks in four games.
Stopping Dallas’ offense, however, is a tall order. The Cowboys (6-1) rank first in the league in yards per play (6.5) with quarterback Dak Prescott averaging 8.4 yards per pass. However, Prescott was limited in practice Wednesday with a calf strain and must “cross the threshold” to play Sunday, coach Mike McCarthy said.
New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs (Monday, 8:15 p.m.)
Baltimore Ravens Insider
What’s happened to the Chiefs? A 27-3 loss to the Titans raises even more questions about Kansas City’s playoff chances, which have dipped to 47% or worse according to projections by Football Outsiders, PFF, FiveThirtyEight and ESPN.
Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes went 38-8, made three straight AFC championship games and won a Super Bowl in their first three full seasons together, so it’s too early to count them out. But if the Chiefs (3-4) struggle to beat the Giants (2-5), it might be time to eliminate them from the Super Bowl conversation.
Next Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6