Coming off their first playoff win with quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens will face the NFL’s hottest passing offense when they travel to Buffalo for an AFC divisional-round showdown with the Bills on Saturday night. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson finally ended talk that he couldn’t win in the playoffs, leading the Ravens over the Tennessee Titans on the road. Jackson started poorly, with an ugly interception on a deep attempt to Miles Boykin and a missed chance to find Mark Andrews in the end zone. But he rallied to complete 17 of 24 passes. Jackson answered critics who said he couldn’t do damage along the sidelines, finding wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown seven times on nine targets for 109 yards. Jackson finished the season seventh in ESPN’s QBR, ahead of Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. He’ll face a better pass defense this week, though the Bills have struggled to cover No. 1 wide receivers, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Wide receiver Willie Snead IV returned from an ankle injury against the Titans, but Jackson threw to him just twice for nine yards. In a surprising twist, the Ravens took advantage of Tennessee’s lax coverage in the flats by featuring fullback Patrick Ricard (three catches on four targets, 26 yards) as a receiver.
BILLS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Josh Allen continued his breakout third season with a stellar playoff performance (26-for-35, 324 yards, two touchdowns) against the Indianapolis Colts. Allen was particularly devastating outside the pocket, where he completed seven of nine passes for 117 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. His mobility and superior arm strength make him a rare threat on plays that appear broken. Allen finished the regular season third in ESPN’s QBR, completing 69.2% of his attempts with 37 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions for the league’s third-ranked passing offense. The Bills scored on nearly half their drives and led the league in third-down efficiency. Allen targeted former Maryland star Stefon Diggs an astounding 166 times, and Diggs led the league in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). He built on that success with six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. Diggs actually increased his production down the stretch, even as teams knew how often he would be targeted. Allen also has a prolific secondary option in Cole Beasley (82 catches on 107 targets, 967 yards). Beasley and Diggs form the surest-handed duo in the league. On the other hand, the Bills don’t have stellar pass catchers at running back or tight end.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Titans actually did a solid job maintaining their discipline against Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. After a stretch of absurd production to close the regular season, Dobbins and Edwards combined for a modest 81 yards on 17 carries in the playoff opener. But the Ravens still rushed for 236 yards overall, because Jackson (16 carries, 136 yards, one touchdown) wrought havoc when he did break loose. Coach John Harbaugh called his 48-yard touchdown scramble the greatest run he’d ever seen by a quarterback. The Ravens also made Brown part of their rushing game with a pair of backward passes that caught the Titans off guard. Ricard played 75% of the team’s offensive snaps against Tennessee, illustrating how indispensable he’s become as a lead blocker. The Ravens have surpassed 200 rushing yards in five of their past six games.
BILLS RUNNING GAME: The Bills averaged 4.2 yards per carry, 20th in the league, during the regular season, and their running backs, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, combined for just 42 yards on 10 carries against the Colts’ stout defense. Moss is now out for the postseason with an ankle injury. Allen is perhaps the greatest running threat (421 yards, eight touchdowns in the regular season) in Buffalo’s backfield. His 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame makes him hard to stop in short-yardage and red-zone situations. The Bills don’t design nearly as many runs for Allen as the Ravens do for Jackson; his 11 carries against the Colts were his most since Week 8.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens delivered a season-best performance in holding Titans superstar Derrick Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and nose tackle Brandon Williams — all healthy — formed an unbreakable wall in the middle. Outside linebackers Pernell McPhee (six tackles on just 20 snaps) and Matthew Judon locked down the edges. The Ravens also kept quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the pocket as they shut down the league’s No. 2 rushing offense. They’ll want to do a better job against Singletary than they did in December 2019, when he gained 89 yards on 17 carries in a 24-17 Ravens win.
BILLS RUSH DEFENSE: The Bills ranked 17th in DVOA against the run and allowed 4.6 yards per carry, seventh worst in the league. They gave up 163 yards on 30 carries against the Colts, and the Ravens will present a far greater challenge because of Jackson. The Bills struggled to stop opponents with mobile quarterbacks, such as the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. They defended well in short-yardage situations but less well once ball carriers broke past 5 yards, per Football Outsiders. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano received below-average run-defense grades from Pro Football Focus.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: With Jimmy Smith back from rib and shoulder injuries, the Ravens used a tight cornerback rotation against the Titans. Marlon Humphrey lost a few early battles against Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown, but he, Smith and Marcus Peters generally made life difficult for Tannehill over the last three quarters. The Ravens will need strong games from them against Diggs and Beasley, who are less physically imposing but perhaps craftier than Tennessee’s deep threats. The Ravens sacked Allen six times and harassed him into a 17-for-39 performance the last time they faced the Bills, but he’s a more accurate and judicious passer and has taken just four sacks over his past six games, including the playoff win over the Colts. Buffalo tackles Dion Dawson and Daryl Williams have both played well, so the Ravens’ edge rushers will have their work cut out for them. Martindale could look to box Allen in the pocket and trust his coverage rather than blitz relentlessly.
BILLS PASS DEFENSE: Colts quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills, but Buffalo played better than that in the regular season, holding opposing quarterbacks to 6.1 yards per attempt and picking off 15 passes. Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White led the team with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde also played well. The Bills blitz frequently (35.8% of drop-backs, per Pro Football Reference) and piled up 38 sacks without an individual pass rusher exceeding five.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker missed a 52-yard attempt against the Titans but bounced back to hit from 51 yards late in the fourth quarter. Tucker has made 28 of 32 field-goal attempts this season (including playoffs), with only one miss inside 50 yards. Punter Sam Koch returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list to average 46.5 net yards on two punts against the Titans. Devin Duvernay handled punt and kickoff returns against Tennessee but didn’t do much damage. The Ravens finished the regular season second in special teams DVOA, in part because of their excellent punt and kickoff coverage.
BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bills have individual standouts in punter Corey Bojorquez and returner Andre Roberts, and they finished the regular season fourth in special-teams DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Kicker Tyler Bass has made 30 of 36 field-goal attempts (including playoffs).
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens stared down two demons by winning a playoff game behind Jackson and doing it against the Titans, who’d given them fits. They’ve won six in a row, putting a difficult midseason behind them and rekindling their confidence as Super Bowl contenders. Harbaugh has never minded taking his teams on the road for playoff games.
BILLS INTANGIBLES: Allen steered his team through a tough test against the Colts, which might actually help the Bills after they hammered overmatched opponents late in the season. Sean McDermott is one of the best coaches in the generation behind Harbaugh and depends on a top offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. The Bills have lost just once at home. Their undyingly loyal fans will be allowed to attend Saturday’s game in limited numbers.
PREDICTION: Jackson will move the ball against a defense that allowed 472 yards against the Colts, but he’ll need to finish drives in the end zone to stay ahead of the Bills’ first-down machine. The Ravens haven’t faced this good a passing offense since the Chiefs blew them out in Week 3. They’ll have to keep Allen in the pocket and play their best coverage game of the season to limit Diggs and Beasley. Ultimately, they have the right players to match up with the Bills on both sides of the ball. Ravens 30, Bills 24.