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If the Ravens get to the playoffs, what team is the best matchup for them? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
By all accounts, the Ravens should make the playoffs on Sunday.
They’re a better team than the Bengals, they’re on a four-game win streak and they know they likely need a win anyways. The Ravens could get in with a loss by either the Browns or the Colts, but the Browns are facing a resting Steelers team and the Colts are facing the 1-14 Jaguars.
So, taking a leap of faith, it’s reasonable to assume the Ravens will make the playoffs. Which leaves the most important question as, who should the Ravens want to play in the playoffs?The Ravens could play the Bills, Colts, Titans or Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. The Chiefs have already locked in the No. 1 seed and will get the AFC’s only bye.
So who should the Ravens want to play? I ranked the four potential matchups for the Ravens:
1. Tennessee Titans
The Titans present the most difficult challenge of any team on this list from a single player in running back Derrick Henry, who has given the Ravens fits the last two times they’ve played. As the Week 12 game between the Ravens and Titans wore on in late November, he took the game over.
The problem for the Titans is that they’ve been wildly erratic this season, and the Ravens should be able to take advantage of a porous defense. This is the matchup Ravens fans should want.
After a 5-0 start, the Titans have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games, including a 30-24 overtime win in Baltimore, but have been up and down all year. They beat the Colts 45-26 just two weeks after a 17-point loss, but then lost to the Browns by six. They beat up on the Jaguars and Lions, but were thoroughly manhandled by the Packers last Sunday.
The Titans have by far the worst defense on this list, and with the Ravens’ offense improving each week, that could present matchup problems for the Titans who have allowed Baker Mayfield and Aaron Rodgers to handle them with relative ease.
Coach Mike Vrabel will certainly have a plan for Lamar Jackson if the two meet, and Henry, paired with wideouts A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, aren’t fun matchups to deal with. But if the Ravens are healthy in the secondary, they should leave Nashville with a win. It wouldn’t hurt the Ravens to avenge last year’s playoff loss, either.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
This is the matchup that fans in Baltimore want, at least for the emotional appeal. And thankfully for them, it might be the matchup that looks best on paper.
The Ravens lost to the Steelers twice this season, but both losses come with caveats. In Week 8, the Ravens lost by four points in a game where they were the better team. If you want to be realistic here, the Ravens lost the game because of Jackson’s mistakes — notably a pick-six early, a fumble inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line and an interception that directly led to a Steelers touchdown.
In Week 12, they were without Jackson and a handful of other starters and reserves as the COVID-depleted Ravens lost by five in a game in which they certainly weren’t the best team, but absolutely could have won.
Since then, the Steelers, namely their offense, have fallen off a cliff.
After an 11-0 start, the last win of which came against the Ravens, they dropped three in a row and needed a huge comeback against the Colts to win last weekend. The Steelers lost to the Washington Football Team, the Bills and Bengals in three of the last four weeks. In those losses, they scored 17, 15 and 17 points and were beaten rather convincingly each time.
Ben Roethlisberger looks like a shell of his former self, and while this week off against the Browns could give him the rest he needs, the Steelers, you can make the case, haven’t played a complete game since their 27-3 win over the Jaguars on November 22. In fact, there hasn’t been much for the Steelers to hang their hat on of late.
Of course, their defense is still talented and they’re certainly not afraid of what Jackson and the Ravens offense brings to the table. But that defense is injured, as inside linebacker Devin Bush and outside linebacker Bud Dupree are out for the season. Inside linebacker Robert Spillane might not be ready for the playoffs, either.
It seems weird to say on its face that the Ravens should be rooting to face a 12-4 or potentially 13-3 Steelers team, but the Steelers haven’t been their dominant selves of late.
3. Buffalo Bills
The hypothetical Bills-Ravens matchup comes with a double whammy. The Ravens would likely be the AFC’s 7th seed for this matchup and face certainly the best offense available of these four teams. Additionally, a Ravens win means they’d head from Buffalo to Kansas City to face the AFC’s No. 1 seeded Chiefs. If this were an easiest path to the Super Bowl list, the Bills would be last.
But in terms of individual matchups, they’re third, which still will likely come as a surprise.
The Bills, though, have not defended the run particularly well this season and are allowing 122.9 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. That’s likely where the Ravens would try and fixate upon the Bills’ defense, which is good against the pass.
Josh Allen has surprised the league with his accuracy this season, in his most accurate season dating back to college at Wyoming. A big reason for that is the breakout of Stefon Diggs, who has carried the Bills’ passing attack all season.
The Ravens, though, should be able to run the football against the Bills and, with their talent in the secondary, slow down Diggs enough to force the game to come down to receivers John Brown, Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley. That’s a scenario the Ravens will take every time.
4. Indianapolis Colts
For a team the Ravens beat, and held to 10 points, it might seem odd, or flat out wrong, that the Colts are last on this list. But the Colts have proven to be a tough out over the last few weeks, and the case can be made they’re the worst matchup for the Ravens specifically.
The Colts recently blew a massive lead over the Steelers, which would have made their AFC South title chances a lot stronger. But what the Colts have over every team on this list is a truly elite run defense.
They allow just 93 yards per game and just 3.7 yards per carry, which would force Jackson to the air. He played well against the Colts in November, for a half, but the Colts mostly shut down the Ravens in the first two quarters and didn't allow much from their run game. The issue was that their offense was non-existent that day.
Since then, Philip Rivers has been efficient at quarterback, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor seized the starting role and has been dominant with 116.6 combined yards per game and six touchdowns in the last five games, and rookie wideout Michael Pittman has taken another step forward. The Colts aren't the team that the Ravens beat 24-10 earlier this season, and even with a few big injuries, they're still well coached and solid across the board.
The Colts don’t beat themselves, evidenced by Rivers’ 10 interceptions and the team’s +10 turnover differential. Right now, while this matchup is almost certainly not going to happen, the Ravens would be in for a massive fight.