Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Saturday

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You’d never know it after such a tumultuous week, but the Ravens can punch their ticket to the playoffs this weekend. 

While other scenarios involving ties or a more extensive combination of game outcomes still exist, Baltimore’s path to clinching a postseason berth for the fourth time in five years is as simple as a win over Atlanta and either a New England loss to Cincinnati or a Miami loss to Green Bay. It’s a needed reminder that John Harbaugh’s team is still 9-5 and remains in excellent postseason shape despite concerns about the health of star quarterback Lamar Jackson — who will miss his third straight game with a knee injury — and an offense that’s floundered since the Week 10 bye. 

A Christmas Eve win would allow all to exhale and enjoy some holiday cheer, but a loss to the 5-9 Falcons? One shudders to think about that possibility on the heels of the ugly 13-3 defeat in Cleveland last weekend. 

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Falcons meet for the seventh time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 4-2 advantage and a 2-0 record at home. The Ravens won the last meeting between these teams, a 26-16 final in Atlanta in 2018. 

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. Baltimore will set a new season high for rushing attempts. The Ravens ran 44 times in their Week 7 win over Cleveland and should copy that blueprint as Tyler Huntley makes his third straight start in place of Jackson and is dealing with a sore throwing shoulder. It won’t be the most dominant rushing performance of the season as old friend Dean Pees will have his Falcons defense sell out to stop the run, but Baltimore has no business trying to get cute in the bitter cold and wind, meaning 45 to 50 rushing attempts shouldn’t be out of the question.

2. Gus Edwards will run for two touchdowns to ease persistent red-zone woes. The Ravens rank 28th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, and that’s after they went a superb 8-for-10 over the first three games of 2022. Feeding Edwards inside the 20 worked in that Week 7 game against the Browns and should be successful again in a game that will test each team’s physicality and mental toughness. J.K. Dobbins will see plenty of work between the 20s, but the 238-pound Edwards will give the Ravens multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time since Week 12.  

3. Tyler Allgeier will score Atlanta’s only touchdown. After showing more vulnerability against the run in Cleveland that we’d seen in a while, the Ravens now face a ground game nearly as impressive as their own and won’t have six-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell in the trenches. That’s not to suggest they won’t be able to slow the Falcons, but the 1-2 punch of Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson running the wide zone will force the Ravens to be on point with their run fits. The more Baltimore can stop the run, the more rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder must try to make plays, which would be a clear advantage for Mike Macdonald’s defense. 

4. Roquan Smith will force a turnover, collect a sack, and lead the way in tackles. The star inside linebacker said he likes playing in cold weather after beginning his NFL career in Chicago, calling himself a “predator” who relishes hitting opponents who don’t like contact in such conditions. Whether it’s forcing a fumble or baiting Ridder into making a mistake through the air, Smith will have an extra spring in his step after receiving the first Pro Bowl nod of his career earlier this week. 

5. The Ravens will clinch a playoff spot with a 17-10 victory. On paper, the plan should be very simple for Harbaugh’s team against a 5-9 opponent with a rookie quarterback making his second career start. Of course, things are rarely easy for Baltimore these days, which is why it’s impossible to expect a blowout win with Jackson again on the sidelines and Huntley struggling in his place. This is the kind of game in which the Ravens will need to bring their own energy with attendance at M&T Bank Stadium not expected to be stellar because of the holiday, the bitter cold, Jackson’s absence, and an unappealing opponent. But I expect the Ravens to get the job done while the Bengals knock off the Patriots to give Baltimore a playoff berth. 

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