With the Ravens traveling to Tennessee in search of their first playoff victory since the 2014 postseason, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. “Starting fast” approaches Captain Obvious territory of “winning the turnover battle,” but falling in an early 10-0 hole? Virtually every player and coach on Baltimore’s sideline would be thinking, “Here we go again.” A strong start to slow the heartbeat is 100 times more important than it was last year.
2. Having just turned 24, Lamar Jackson is still younger than Tom Brady when he won his first Super Bowl in his second NFL season. Peyton Manning lost his first three playoff games and Eli Manning his first two before they each won two Super Bowls in their careers. Perspective.
3. That said, a small sample size eventually isn’t so little anymore, especially with a roster that isn’t getting any cheaper and an enormous payday for Jackson looming on the horizon. Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern, right? Pressure just comes with the territory.
4. Only six players remain – seven if you count Pernell McPhee’s departure and eventual return – from that last postseason win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, 2015. Haloti Ngata played in that game for the Ravens, who were still a few months away from drafting Breshad Perriman. It’s been a little while.
5. Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams were sidelined when Derrick Henry rushed for 133 yards in Week 11, but the Titans offensive line was also banged up. Left guard Rodger Saffold was out, left tackle Ty Sambrailo exited in the second half, and center Ben Jones hadn’t practiced all week.
6. In running for 328 yards in his last two games against Baltimore, Henry had five runs of 23 or more yards. Meanwhile, the Ravens ranked 26th in missed tackle rate and 30th in yards allowed after contact per carry this season, according to PFF. Tackling has been a multilevel concern.
7. Marlon Humphrey recently acknowledged having trouble catching his breath late in the Week 11 meeting with the Titans, which was his second game after a bout with COVID-19. He and Marcus Peters need to be better than they were in the second half when Corey Davis and A.J. Brown dominated.
8. Last year marked the first time in the playoff history between these old AFC Central rivals that either team scored over 24 in a game. Even with the Ravens defense closer to full strength this time around, this feels like a “first one to 30 points wins” kind of showdown.
9. As Baltimore was reminded last year, the road team is 4-0 in this playoff history with three of those games resulting in an upset of the AFC’s top seed. Home-field advantage means less than ever this year, but the Titans will host roughly 14,500 fans, which should provide some atmosphere.
10. I expected major regression from Ryan Tannehill after his surprising 2019, but Wink Martindale’s assessment that “the years slowed the game down for him” feels spot on. Though Henry remains the focus of that Tennessee offense as a 2,000-yard rusher, Tannehill can easily beat you with his arm or legs.
11. Henry threw a touchdown pass in last year’s playoff win, and the Titans executed a successful fake punt in their Week 11 overtime victory. In other words, the Ravens need to be on alert for trickery, especially with Tennessee trying to protect its porous defense.
12. Asked about the Titans’ midfield logo antics providing additional motivation, Mark Andrews said, “If it takes that to get you going, then you’re kind of doing the wrong thing. We’ve got all our goals ahead of us. We’re not worried about them. We’re worried about us.” A perfect answer.