With the Ravens aiming for their fifth straight win to punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts (and a prediction), each in 50 words or less:
1. Only 11 players will be on the field for Baltimore who took part in the stunning Week 17 loss to the Bengals in 2017. Chuck Clark said it hasn’t been a topic of conversation, but that loss is “definitely in the back of your mind.” How could it not be?
2. Having won two straight for the first time in over two years, the Bengals are confident and should have the attention of the Ravens, especially after upsetting Pittsburgh recently. However, Cincinnati nose tackle Mike Daniels’ COVID-19 positive and potential close contacts could shift the competitive balance for an already-poor defense.
3. Extending Jimmy Smith is fine when considering his 2020 play and the modest commitment, but Smith and Tavon Young staying put isn’t the statement of great depth some are peddling when these are the guys who can’t stay healthy. I’d still look for a cornerback relatively early in the draft.
4. Marcus Peters and Smith returning to practice was a critical step beyond just their Week 17 status. It’s difficult envisioning a deep January run without at least one of them not only available but also playing at a high level. Baltimore hasn’t exactly faced a murderers’ row of quarterbacks lately.
5. A month ago, Marlon Humphrey would have received my Ravens MVP vote, but Lamar Jackson playing his best football of the season in the wake of his COVID-19 infection and amidst great pressure made the difference. I’m intrigued to see him in the playoffs again after overcoming much adversity.
6. Terrell Suggs was wrapping up his third NFL season and John Harbaugh was still more than two years away from being hired the last time the Ravens had someone other than Sam Koch punting for them. His Week 17 replacement, Johnny Townsend, was 10 years old.
7. Watching J.K. Dobbins carry the ball motioning from the slot and seeing the ground game shift to more outside runs is an interesting contrast to the passing game’s struggles outside the numbers. Stress linebackers and safeties on the edges to loosen up the middle of the field for Jackson’s arm?
8. Just 92 receiving yards shy of 1,000, Tee Higgins was taken five spots after Patrick Queen in April’s draft. The latter could end up being a mainstay at inside linebacker for the Ravens, but the thought of the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Higgins being a target for Jackson was quite appealing.
9. Jessie Bates’ comment about Jackson locking in on Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown wasn’t exactly bold if we’re honest. After combining for roughly 38 percent of receptions and 43 percent of receiving yards for Baltimore in 2019, they have roughly 43 percent and 50 percent in those categories this year.
10. Jackson is 92 yards away from becoming the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons after already becoming the first to register 800 rushing yards in back-to-back years. It’s your latest reminder to not take watching such a generational talent for granted while dwelling on relative weaknesses.
11. A.J. Green will likely be playing his final game as a Bengal while the injured Geno Atkins is a strong candidate to be cut for salary cap reasons. Green’s long history of hurting the Ravens is no secret while the retired Marshal Yanda always named Atkins among his toughest rivals.
12. Derek Wolfe didn’t mince words summing up 2020, a year that’s been so difficult for so many in countless ways. I am grateful for your continued support reading and listening on AM 1570 and wish you and yours a blessed 2021 that includes being back at the stadium and ballpark.
Prediction: Baltimore has won four straight and shouldn’t have many problems with the Bengals, but that 2017 team had won five of six and actually ranked higher in Football Outsiders’ efficiency and weighted efficiency metrics than this team. The Ravens must start fast and finish strong. They will in a 27-10 win.