The bye week will come at a good time as the Ravens are really banged up on the offensive side of the ball for their Monday night meeting with New Orleans.
Mark Andrews is out, Gus Edwards is doubtful, J.K. Dobbins remains on short-term injured reserve, and Rashod Bateman is done for the season. And with veteran wideout Demarcus Robinson suffering a groin injury late in the practice week, Baltimore may feel even more urgency to turn to three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver — and the 35-year-old — DeSean Jackson in the prime-time tilt against the Saints.
That said, a win would give John Harbaugh’s team a 6-3 record ahead of a post-bye schedule that includes only two opponents with more than three wins — Atlanta and Cincinnati — through Week 9. On paper, the second half sets up very nicely.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Saints meet for the eighth time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 5-2 edge and a 2-0 record at the Superdome. New Orleans won the most recent meeting between these teams, a 24-23 final in 2018 that included Lamar Jackson’s first career touchdown and Justin Tucker’s shocking missed extra point in the closing seconds.
Below are five predictions for Monday night:
1. Roquan Smith will lead the Ravens in tackles in his debut. Acquired from Chicago for 2023 second- and fifth-round picks despite being under contract only through this season, the two-time second-team All-Pro inside linebacker definitely makes what’s been an average defense better, but time will tell just how much the 25-year-old Smith will move the needle. Asked how quickly he can get up to speed in this system, Smith said, “I feel like I have the mental capacity to do those things and be able to step right in and do what I need to do.” No one seemed concerned this week about Smith being ready for the Saints, and he’ll show that by playing all but a handful of snaps.
2. Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara will catch touchdowns for New Orleans. While injuries continue to derail the career of Michael Thomas, the Saints have to be pleased with what they’ve seen out of the first-round pick Olave, who has averaged 14.8 yards per catch and is on pace for over 1,100 receiving yards despite missing a game. His ability to line up outside or in the slot will remind why the Ravens could have used a more consistent third cornerback at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Kamara got the NFL’s attention with a three-touchdown outing against Las Vegas after being blanked in that department over his first five games of 2022. Smith, Patrick Queen, and a returning Tyus Bowser will be tested plenty by the five-time Pro Bowl back, who should be Andy Dalton’s best friend in this matchup.
3. Lamar Jackson will eclipse 100 rushing yards for the third time this season. The Saints have a better rush defense than Tampa Bay, but the variety of runs with which the Ravens gashed the Buccaneers should put the league on notice that the Baltimore offense may have rediscovered its identity. It’s also worth noting that New Orleans has allowed 25 or more rushing yards to quarterbacks three times this season, and Jackson should be more inclined to use his own legs with Baltimore down its top two running backs as well as multiple pass catchers for this one. While it was encouraging to see Jackson break out of his passing slump in the second half of the Buccaneers game and the Saints will be without four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore, it’s difficult envisioning a huge passing night.
4. Isaiah Likely will again look like a promising understudy with a red-zone touchdown reception. With Saints linebackers Demario Davis and Pete Werner regarded as one of the league’s better duos and Football Outsiders ranking New Orleans first in coverage efficiency against tight ends, a healthy Andrews would have made this an intriguing matchup, but the Ravens will instead have to lean on Likely. The rookie fourth-round pick registered season highs with six catches on seven targets for 77 yards and a touchdown in Week 8. Perhaps DeSean Jackson will provide a spark, but Baltimore is depending on Likely and Devin Duvernay to pick up the slack as receivers. Though that won’t result in a big volume night, Likely will again show he’s worthy of a bigger role even after Andrews returns.
5. The Ravens will not build a double-digit lead, but they’ll grind their way to a 20-19 victory. Per NFL Research, the Ravens could become the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to hold a lead of 10-plus points in each of their first nine games, joining the 2011 Packers, 2009 Saints, 1989 Giants, and 1984 Dolphins. Each of those teams started 8-1 or better and finished no worse than 12-4, which reflects how unusual this 5-3 Baltimore team has been and how the NFL is changing with close games and point swings more closely resembling the NBA. That factoid will be a moot point for this one, however, as the Ravens won’t build a double-digit lead against a Saints team that’s played better than its 3-5 record for stretches this season. What Baltimore will do is hold a team under 20 points for the third time this year and force a Dalton turnover at a critical time while the offense does just enough with its depleted group of skill players. Both teams will play their seventh game decided by a single score this season, but the Ravens will enter the bye with a third straight victory to maintain sole possession of first place in the AFC North.