Baltimore Sun sports columnist Mike Preston is constantly asked by Raven fans, "will the Ravens make the Super Bowl?" (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has completed 58.2 percent of his passes and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. He delivered his best passing game of the season in Week 16 against the Chargers, completing 12 of 22 for 204 yards and a 68-yard touchdown to fellow rookie Mark Andrews. Andrews continued to be Jackson’s favorite target in last Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, catching four passes for 54 yards. The Ravens wide receivers again played a minimal role in the playoff-clinching victory; John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV combined for just four catches on seven targets.
CHARGERS PASSING GAME: The Ravens held Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to a season-worst 181 passing yards in Week 16, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice. Rivers had one of his best overall seasons at age 37, completing 68.3 percent of his passes and averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Rivers’s top target, wide receiver Keenan Allen, suffered a hip pointer in Week 15 and caught a modest nine passes for 122 yards in the team’s final two games. Rivers spreads his throws around; five Chargers, including running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, have at least 400 receiving yards.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens rushed for a season-high 296 yards in their season-closing victory over the Browns. They’ve now run for at least 190 in six of Jackson’s seven starts. Running back Kenneth Dixon gained a career-high 117 yards on just 12 attempts against Cleveland. Rookie running back Gus Edwards produced another efficient game with 76 yards on 12 carries. He was the Ravens’ top runner in their previous victory over the Chargers with 92 yards on 14 carries. Jackson has rushed for 556 yards in his seven starts, though he gained just 39 against the fleet Chargers defense. He again hurt the Ravens with a fumble, this one on the goal line, in the Browns game.
CHARGERS RUNNING GAME: The Chargers rank 15th in the league in rushing yards per game but seventh in yards per carry. The Ravens held starting running back Melvin Gordon to just 41 yards on 12 carries in Week 16. Ekeler, one of the most dangerous No. 2 backs in the league, missed that game but returned to gain 58 yards on eight carries in Week 17. Rookie Justin Jackson has also been effective in limited duty.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens shut down Gordon in Week 16 and did the same to Cleveland’s excellent rookie runner, Nick Chubb, in Week 17. They finished the regular season fourth in the league in run defense and held opponents to just 3.7 yards per carry. Linebacker C.J. Mosley again led them with 105 combined tackles. Pro Football Focus graded defensive tackle Michael Pierce as the team’s top run defender, with fellow defensive tackle Brandon Williams just behind.
CHARGERS RUSH DEFENSE: The Chargers handled the Jackson-led ground attack better than any other opponent, holding the Ravens to 159 rushing yards and stifling them in the second half. Ravens players and coaches have repeatedly praised the speed of the Chargers defense. Safety Derwin James, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, leads the team in tackles and is the Chargers’ top-graded run defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Fellow safety Adrian Phillips also made the Pro Bowl.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens neutralized Rivers with relentless pressure from multiple points and well-disguised coverage schemes. They were not as steady against Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, intercepting him three times but giving up passes of at least 38 yards to four different receivers. It was an atypical effort for a defense that’s held opposing quarterbacks to 5.4 yards per attempt, second-lowest in the league. Cornerback Jimmy Smith was a bright spot, intercepting two passes and allowing just one catch in coverage.
CHARGERS PASS DEFENSE: The Chargers rank ninth in the league in pass defense and feature two of the league’s best defensive backs in James and cornerback Desmond King. Defensive end Joey Bosa played just seven games but had 5½ sacks. He and Pro Bowl selection Melvin Ingram form a dangerous pair of edge rushers. The Chargers do an excellent job covering tight ends, despite the fact that Andrews beat them for a game-turning touchdown catch in Week 16.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after making four field goals against the Browns. He finished the season with 35 makes on 39 attempts. Cyrus Jones has averaged 14.4 yards on 18 punt returns. Kickoff returner Chris Moore missed the fourth quarter against Cleveland because of a bruise but is expected to be fine for the Chargers game.
CHARGERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Michael Badgley made 15 of 16 field-goal attempts after he took the kicker job from struggling Caleb Sturgis. Donnie Jones has been one of the least effective punters in the league with a 38-yard net average and just 15 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. King has averaged 13.8 yards per punt return, including a 73-yard touchdown. He’s been slightly less effective on kickoffs, averaging 23.7 yards on 22 returns.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens beat up the Chargers offense just two weeks ago, and that was on the road. They won six of their past seven games to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, and they’ve won at least one game every time they’ve reached the postseason under coach John Harbaugh. They have many reasons to feel confident as they prepare to host a playoff game for the first time in six years.
CHARGERS INTANGIBLES: The Chargers also put a run of disappointing recent history to rest with a 12-4 season. Second-year coach Anthony Lynn has built a balanced, adaptable team around Rivers. The Chargers will have to reverse their season-worst offensive effort from two weeks ago, but they’re an impressive 7-1 on the road.
PREDICTION: The Chargers have been excellent on the road all season and will likely arrive better prepared than they were in Week 16. With Rivers at quarterback and a speedy defense, they’re one of the most balanced teams the Ravens have played all season. Nonetheless, it’s hard to forget how the Ravens pummeled them two weeks ago. This rematch will remain tense into the fourth quarter, but the Ravens will wear the Chargers down and beat them 27-21 in their first home playoff game since Jan. 6, 2013.