With the Ravens traveling to Buffalo for the divisional round and aiming to advance to the AFC Championship for the first time in eight years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. There’s little to glean from last season’s meeting with Buffalo’s offense dramatically better, its defense not as good, and the Baltimore ground attack having evolved since then. The Bills have a terrific passing offense while the Ravens have a special running game and better defense. We’ll see which profile prevails.
2. Watching Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen become two of the NFL’s brightest stars is a lesson to keep an open mind when looking for franchise quarterbacks and to have patience with their development. No one expected Jackson to be the league MVP last year while Allen’s 2020 is equally remarkable.
3. Stefon Diggs has played a massive part in Allen’s improvement as the former Terp led the NFL in catches and receiving yards after being acquired from Minnesota. Seeing Allen take a gigantic leap forward with a legitimate No. 1 receiver has to make you wonder what that’d do for Jackson.
4. The Bills struggled to stop the run against Indianapolis after finishing 26th in yards per carry (4.62), but they improved down the stretch and some opine about deliberate sacrifices to better defend the pass. Wink Martindale has occasionally alluded to that with Baltimore’s yards per carry allowed being similar (4.55).
5. Defending the pass remains more valuable than defending the run when looking at it in terms of yardage and big-play capability, but Jackson remains the ultimate cheat code against that convention. The Bills having the sixth-most missed tackles in the league won’t help either. However, the Ravens had even more.
6. Limiting Tennessee’s passing game to one touchdown and 165 yards was impressive, but Buffalo doesn’t lean on a 2,000-yard rusher to set up throws. While the Titans passed on first down less often than anyone this season, the Bills threw a league-high 61 percent of the time on first down.
7. Another element of Buffalo’s passing game to watch is its affinity for working from four-receiver sets, something with which the Ravens occasionally struggled. According to Pro Football Focus, they ranked 21st in yards per attempt, 23rd in explosive pass play rate, and 26th in passer rating allowed against that grouping.
8. On the flip side, an otherwise rock-solid Bills pass defense allowed the most catches and yards to tight ends this season, something that was on display in the wild-card round. Last week’s win over the Titans featured Marquise Brown, but Mark Andrews should be in line for a big night.
9. Tracking the possibility of lake-effect snow a couple days out isn’t a job for a layman, but the possibility of winds 15 to 25 miles per hour seems far more significant, especially for the team more dependent on the pass. Allen does have a cannon for an arm, of course.
10. Augmented by all-world kicker Justin Tucker and Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts, these teams are evenly matched on special teams. Given Buffalo’s ability, you wonder if the Ravens consider activating Chris Moore over Dez Bryant, who has two catches over the last five games and doesn’t play on teams.
11. It’s also a similar matchup with penalties as the Ravens committed the fifth most in the league (104) and the Bills the sixth most (102). Baltimore ranked 30th in penalty yards while Buffalo finished 28th. I guess the officials can’t be out to get both teams on Saturday night, right?
12. We talked about the Ravens breaking through for their first playoff win in six years, but Bills fans hadn’t tasted postseason victory since Dec. 30, 1995. That was before the Ravens existed and either current quarterback had been born. It’s a shame Buffalo will have only 6,700 in attendance Saturday.