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You will often hear this time of year about how a certain team can be dangerous in the playoffs, and that “nobody will want to face them.” Theoretically all playoff teams are dangerous, and you have to face someone.
But it actually applies to the Baltimore Ravens.
“Honestly, why not?” Weddle said, via NFL.com. “What do we do? We play great defense. We control the ball on offense. We play great special teams. Why can’t you win playoff football? That’s the ingredients to win. Anyone has a chance. If we get in the tournament, we have as a good a shot as anybody.
“I know for a fact no one wants to see us. I know that.”
Prepare yourselves, if you haven’t already, for an offseason-long debate about whether the Ravens offense we’ve seen with Lamar Jackson in the second half of the season is sustainable. You’re going to hear a lot about that. And it is hard to believe a quarterback can survive with 16.5 rushing attempts per game, which is what Jackson is averaging over six starts.
But forget about the big picture for a moment. On a week-to-week basis, nobody wants to play the Ravens. It’s a nightmare because their offense is unlike any other in the NFL.
What the Ravens are doing with Lamar Jackson is unique. While the other 31 offenses have their wrinkles, they are all fairly similar. The Ravens are different. It’s like a college football team facing a service academy that runs the option. Teams don’t face that style of offense at any other time, so it’s a pain in the behind. (“We’re not even grading this tape,” then-Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said after OU allowed 351 rushing yards in 2010 to Air Force. “It doesn’t do us any good, so we’re going right on down the road.”)
For an idea of how unique the Ravens’ offense is, the Chiefs had cornerback Tremon Smith play Jackson in practice all week for the scout team. The Falcons used a trio of receivers, Russell Gage, Marvin Hall, and Mohamed Sanu. Oakland had practice squad receiver/defensive back Rico Gafford mimic Jackson in practice. When your week starts off with figuring out which non-quarterback has to play the role of the opposing QB in practice, you know it’s going to be an unusual preparation.
And not only do the Ravens center their offense on their quarterback’s running ability more than … well, any NFL team ever, they’re creative with formations and plays. Don’t confuse a run-heavy offense with a simple offense.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley summed up the “complicated” offense this way, according to The Athletic:
There’s a reason the Ravens are 5-1 with Jackson starting, with just an overtime loss at Kansas City. The defense is good, and an elite running game fits well with that. You won’t get many possessions against the Ravens, and the defense is going to make every one of them tough. We’ve seen that formula work many times in January.
“A lot of challenges, just because you don’t know what plays they’re running,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I don’t recognize some of the plays they’re running. You’ve got to go back to Louisville and study him there.”
Of course, the Ravens haven’t made the playoffs yet. They need to beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to clinch the AFC North title, and beating the Browns is not an easy task anymore. If the Ravens lose, that opens up the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers to take the division title.
While Pittsburgh is widely viewed as the more talented, explosive team, potential playoff opponents — and especially the defensive coordinators of those teams — will probably be rooting for the Steelers to win the AFC North. It’s less of a headache to prepare for them.
Here are the power rankings after Week 16 of the NFL season:
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-12, Last Week: 32)
Since winning at Lambeau Field, the Cardinals have gone 0-3 and were outscored 88-26. The game before the Packers win, they got blown out 45-10 by the Chargers. There’s good reason for the speculation that Mike McCarthy will be the next coach of the Cardinals.
31. Oakland Raiders (4-11, LW: 31)
If that was it for the Raiders in Oakland, the fans there deserved that final home win.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9, LW: 28)
Jeff Driskel hasn’t been terrible. He threw two touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday, though he did nothing before the Browns had an enormous lead. Driskel is a good athlete and is capable of making some throws. Not that the Bengals should believe they found a quarterback of the future, but he should be a solid backup going forward.
29. San Francisco 49ers (4-11, LW: 29)
I’ll go out on a limb and say no other coach with Kyle Shanahan’s record has ever gotten so little criticism. Shanahan is 10-21. Nobody has wondered if he’s on the hot seat. And I’d still bet on Shanahan being a successful coach, once he has Jimmy Garoppolo healthy. But 10-21 is a little scary, right?
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10, LW: 30)
Leonard Fournette’s last three games: 43 carries, 125 yards, 2.9-yard average. He has a 3.3-yard average for the season. His last 100-yard rushing game in the regular season was Dec. 10, 2017. Maybe Fournette is in a bad spot because the Jaguars don’t have a quarterback, but Jacksonville has to regret drafting him so high.
27. Denver Broncos (6-9, LW: 21)
Assuming the Broncos fire Vance Joseph — and assuming it hasn’t happened already after that horrendous showing in Oakland on Monday night — the team might end up shocked at how unattractive its opening is. What do you sell to a good head-coaching candidate if you’re the Broncos right now?
26. New York Jets (4-11, LW: 27)
Yes, the Jets’ fourth-quarter collapse wasn’t fun, and a win over the Packers would have felt pretty good. But this is all that Jets fans should worry about from Sunday’s game: Sam Darnold was 24-of-35 for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s going to be good.
25. Detroit Lions (5-10, LW: 25)
Matthew Stafford had 116 yards on 32 attempts against the Vikings. The Lions need to take a hard, honest look at what has happened to the offense. Stafford wasn’t great before this season, but he was never this ineffective. Is it the scheme? Supporting cast? Stafford himself? The only absolute answer is the Lions aren’t winning anything if the offense doesn’t improve a lot.
24. New York Giants (5-10, LW: 26)
Is Saquon Barkley wearing down a bit? His past two games he has 74 yards on 35 carries, and he hasn’t had a big impact catching the ball either. It looked for a long time like he was a lock to win offensive rookie of the year, but Baker Mayfield might take it now.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10, LW: 23)
DeSean Jackson took a cleat to the Achilles and was limping badly after the game, according to the Tampa Bay Times. If he misses Week 17 his Buccaneers career might be over, considering his $10 million salary next year isn’t guaranteed. Jackson is 32 and remains a good deep threat, so it’ll be interesting to see what market develops for him if the Buccaneers let him loose.
22. Carolina Panthers (6-9, LW: 18)
The Panthers’ season is officially done, but it’s worth reading this story about Julius Peppers’ surprise to a 12-year-old boy and his family who were displaced by Hurricane Florence. It’s a fantastic story for the holidays.
21. Atlanta Falcons (6-9, LW: 24)
The top five in passer rating, in order: Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers. Brees, Mahomes and Rivers have been mentioned as MVP candidates, and Wilson might be in the mix with more volume. Forget the Falcons’ record for a moment; Ryan is having a heck of a season.
20. Buffalo Bills (5-10, LW: 19)
The Bills get the Dolphins at home in Week 17, and it’s hard to imagine Miami will be motivated to go finish their season in the cold. Not that 6-10 was the goal, but another win before the offseason would be a positive. Then the real work begins: building an offense in the offseason.
19. Miami Dolphins (7-8, LW: 17)
Losing 17-7 to a Jaguars team that had checked out long ago is disheartening. You don’t want to overreact to one game, but you have to wonder how you can go into the offseason with any confidence in Adam Gase or Ryan Tannehill after that.
18. Green Bay Packers (6-8-1, LW: 22)
Jamaal Williams had 156 total yards replacing Aaron Jones, who is a very good runner. Rookie receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling combined for 10 catches and 169 yards, to complement the fantastic Davante Adams. Aaron Rodgers had a vintage performance. Whoever the Packers’ next coach is, he’ll have plenty of offensive talent to work with.
17. Washington Redskins (7-8, LW: 20)
For most of Saturday’s game it looked like the Redskins would go on the road with their fourth quarterback of the season, and injuries everywhere else in the lineup, and knock off the Titans. Tennessee won it late, but it’s still impressive what Jay Gruden and his staff have done late in the season.
16. Cleveland Browns (7-7-1, LW: 15)
We’re going to get a good game between the Browns and Ravens. The Browns aren’t alive for the playoffs, but securing a winning season and ruining the Ravens’ AFC North championship hopes would be a perfect way to end a pretty good year.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7, LW: 16)
What an amazing story Nick Foles is authoring … again. I’ll ask again: Has anyone had a stranger NFL career than Foles?
14. Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1, LW: 14)
The Vikings probably could have used a 49ers win on Sunday. That would have ended the Bears’ hopes of getting a first-round bye, and presumably Chicago would have rested starters. Now Minnesota plays a Bears team that will be taking this game seriously, and handled the Vikings on a Sunday night earlier this season.
13. Indianapolis Colts (9-6, LW: 13)
When the Colts were 1-5, did anyone think they’d be entering Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line against the Titans? Even if the Colts lose on Sunday night, what a remarkable season for Frank Reich and his team.
12. Tennessee Titans (9-6, LW: 12)
We can’t really trust Marcus Mariota to get through Sunday night’s game healthy, can we? Even after suffering a stinger last week? The Titans are in a tough spot, figuring out what to do with a quarterback who hasn’t been great yet and can’t stay healthy.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1, LW: 8)
One thing about the Steelers’ fake punt: Almost every time a play like that is run, it’s based on some weakness the coaching staff saw on film during the week. It likely was not a random spur-of-the-moment call for the Steelers to go for that exact fake punt play. And it came close to breaking wide open, but Saints linebacker Craig Robertson made an alert play and a great tackle. All that said, it still didn’t make a ton of sense in that exact situation, and fakes are always going to look bad when they don’t work.
10. Seattle Seahawks (9-6, LW: 11)
Pete Carroll is going to make $11 million per season through 2021? Given what he’s done this season, it doesn’t seem like too bad of a deal.
9. Baltimore Ravens (9-6, LW: 10)
We all know about Lamar Jackson’s running ability, but he’s capable as a passer. He has at least 125 yards and 12 completions in each start. No, that’s not Patrick Mahomes-level production. But with how well the Ravens run the ball, it’s fine. They need Jackson to hit a pass or two like his shot to Mark Andrews against the Chargers, and he can do that.
8. Dallas Cowboys (9-6, LW: 9)
I don’t get why the Cowboys, or any other team that can’t change its playoff seed and doesn’t have a bye, would play starters in Week 17. Maybe for a drive or two, just to keep everyone focused. But Jerry Jones is acting like Dallas will play as normal in Week 17, and that would be nonsensical.
7. Houston Texans (10-5, LW: 6)
If the Texans hadn’t given up a last-minute drive to the Eagles, we’d all be talking about Deshaun Watson’s great comeback that included a beautiful touchdown pass to take the lead. It’s still worth noting that Watson has gotten right back on a superstar track after a torn ACL.
6. New England Patriots (10-5, LW: 7)
Maybe Tom Brady’s knee is hurting more than he’ll say. After posting a 48.3 passer rating on Sunday, a week off in January might be a great thing for the Patriots and Brady. If they beat the Jets in Week 17 to get a first-round bye, they can thank the Eagles for that comeback win over the Texans.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-4, LW: 3)
Losing to the Ravens, even at home, is nothing to be ashamed about. But the Chargers really blew an opportunity. Had they won last week they’d be going into Week 17 leading the AFC West, with a No. 1 seed in their sights. Instead, unless the Raiders pull off a monumental upset at Kansas City, the Chargers are the No. 5 seed.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4, LW: 2)
Losing Kareem Hunt isn’t the biggest reason for the Chiefs’ recent struggles. The defense is a much bigger problem than what K.C. is getting out of its running backs. But the fact is, since cutting Hunt, the Chiefs have played four games and haven’t looked great in any of them. And Hunt was a heck of a player. There has to be at least a little bit of a correlation.
3. Chicago Bears (11-4, LW: 5)
In a weird way, a loss at the 49ers might not have been the worst thing. The Bears won, and a first-round bye is still on the table, though Chicago needs an unlikely Rams loss to the 49ers. The Bears almost have to play it straight, just in case. We might look back and realize the Bears would have been better off taking Week 17 off with nothing to play for.
2. Los Angeles Rams (12-3, LW: 4)
Aaron Donald’s three-sack day set a record for sacks in a season by a defensive tackle, which was previously set by Keith Millard in 1989. It’s almost unfathomable to think a defensive tackle could get 20 sacks, much less make a run at Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5, but Donald has a shot.
1. New Orleans Saints (13-2, LW: 1)
The Saints’ locker room dance party (Teddy!) might be the best thing about this NFL season:
— FantasyFactor (@FantasyFactor) December 24, 2018
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