As the calendar turns to October, the Ravens welcoming Buffalo to town brings thoughts of January, which is all that really matters for Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen at this point.
Regular-season stats and accolades are great, but legacies are defined by the postseason as both quarterbacks continue their pursuit of a Super Bowl. And though the next official step in that journey is still more than three months away with no shortage of obstacles between now and then, Sunday offers a potential playoff preview with these teams looking as formidable as any in the AFC through the first few weeks of the 2022 season.
At the very least, watching two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks square off makes for an exciting Week 4.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Bills meet for the 10th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 6-3 advantage and a 5-1 home record. Of course, Buffalo won the most recent meeting between these teams, which was a 17-3 final played in Orchard Park in the 2020 divisional playoff round.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Buffalo edge rushers Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, and Boogie Basham will each register a sack. Ronnie Stanley is officially questionable to play after practicing fully on Wednesday and Thursday and the Baltimore offensive line has fared well in pass protection so far, but the Bills blitz less than anyone and still feature the top pressure rate in the NFL, according to Sharp Football. That speaks to what kind of challenge the Ravens face against this talented front even if Stanley plays in a game for only the second time in the last 23 months. Jackson carved up the heavy blitzing from Miami and New England the past two weeks, so how he fares with more defenders dropping into pass coverage could be one of the stories of the game — assuming the Bills stay true to their tendency.
2. Mark Andrews will catch another touchdown to continue his red-hot start to the season. After his record-breaking 2021 campaign, the 27-year-old continues to assert himself as the NFL’s best tight end and probably still doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves after making plays like this for his superstar quarterback on a weekly basis. Andrews not only enters Week 4 ranked first among tight ends in touchdown catches, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving first downs, but he owns the NFL’s longest overall active streak of games with at least 50 receiving yards at 12. According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo ranks first in the league in coverage efficiency against tight ends, but does that really matter? Andrews is going to get his every week, and the Bills haven’t faced anyone like him so far this season.
3. Stefon Diggs will become the latest wideout to eclipse 100 receiving yards against the Ravens. A rainy forecast may prove to be Baltimore’s best friend, but it’s difficult to feel confident when even New England’s Mac Jones averaged 10 yards per pass attempt and DeVante Parker went over the century receiving mark last week. Perhaps Mike Macdonald elects to have Marlon Humphrey travel with Diggs over the course of Sunday’s game — a strategy the Ravens have rarely deployed against No. 1 receivers in recent years — but Baltimore must get better play from a third cornerback beyond Humphrey and Marcus Peters for the pass defense to build on what it did in the second half last week. The task becomes easier if No. 2 wide receiver Gabe Davis sits out with an ankle injury, but Allen has other weapons to target, making it even more difficult to contain Diggs for 60 minutes.
4. Jackson and Allen will lead their respective teams with over 60 rushing yards apiece. This isn’t exactly a bold prediction considering Buffalo ranks last in Football Outsiders’ rushing efficiency and Ravens tailbacks are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, a number that got a major lift from Justice Hill last week. Buffalo is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry and mostly contained a superior Baltimore ground game in the last two meetings between these teams, which will make Jackson’s rushing ability that much more important. Bills running backs may not scare you, but Allen’s ability to take off should, especially after watching Jones escape the pocket against the Ravens last week. In a similar way to how defenses are stressed facing Jackson, maintaining pass-rush lane integrity will be critical against Allen. Both quarterbacks can pick you apart from the pocket if you don’t pressure, but being undisciplined in trying to get there spells trouble. Pick your poison.
5. Health and home-field advantage provides a slight edge in a 24-23 win for the Ravens. All things being equal on the health front and looking at these teams on paper entering the season, Buffalo is the better overall team, but timing is everything in this league. While Baltimore is still dealing with some injury concerns, this feels like the first time in ages that the opponent is even more banged up with the Bills especially hurting in the secondary. Even with wet conditions, that spells trouble with the way Jackson is seeing the entire field and throwing the football to begin the 2022 season. If the weather were better, I would have predicted the first team to 34 points being the winner in a shootout, but I’ll go with the Ravens at home in a nail-biter against an opponent playing a second straight road game. A January rematch would be a blast, and hosting such a game would be significant, making Sunday’s tilt that much more important even in Week 4.