Check out this tweet from Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo which came down as the Falcons were routing the Jaguars 41-14 last night: “Dear God how did the ravens lose to the god awful jaguars!!!!!!!”
Many of us are wondering the same thing, Brendon.
Despite that frustrating loss in Jacksonville, the Ravens can still earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC if they win out over the final three games of the season. First on the docket is a Sunday night game against the 6-7 Chargers.
Here’s how the two teams match up going into Sunday’s contest:
Ravens: 346.0 yards per game (14th)
Chargers: 388.1 yards per game (8th)
Ravens: 117.2 ypg (13th)
Chargers: 115.2 ypg (16th)
Ravens: 228.8 ypg (15th)
Chargers: 272.8 ypg (7th)
Ravens: 278.1 ypg (3rd)
Chargers: 330.5 ypg (8th)
Ravens: 85.8 ypg (2nd)
Chargers: 128.9 ypg (t-23rd)
Ravens: 192.3 ypg (5th)
Chargers: 201.5 ypg (7th)
Ravens: +3 (12th)
Chargers: -7 (t-26th)
As we’ve discussed, despite their sub-.500 record and intense struggles at times this season, the Chargers are a very talented team, and coming off two straight wins, their playoff hopes have gotten a jolt.
As you can see above, both San Diego’s offense and defense are ranked in the top 10 in the league, and interestingly enough, the Chargers’ offense is the highest-ranked unit the Ravens will face this year.
That group has a quarterback (Phillip Rivers) who is second in the league in interceptions but still has the ability to sling the ball deep down the field and take over a game when he’s on. Rivers is set to top the 4,000-yard passing mark for the fourth straight season, largely because his corps of wide receivers is one of the best and most physical in the league.
Two of those receivers (Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd) present major matchup problems because of their size and physicality. Both Jackson and Floyd stand at 6-foot-5 but also have the speed to get down the field and make plays. Throw in arguably the best pass catching tight end in the league (Antonio Gates), who stands at 6-foot-4, and you can see how the Ravens’ linebackers and defensive backs will have their hands full trying to defend that group.
The Chargers aren’t an excellent running team, but second-year back Ryan Matthews is solid and can bust a big play if a defense isn’t careful.
San Diego’s defense isn’t going to wow anyone, but it has made enough plays to keep the Chargers in most games this season. The Chargers are led up front by former Ravens linebacker Antwan Barnes, who has a team-high seven sacks, and on the back end by safety Eric Weddle, who has a league-best seven interceptions. Yet again, the Ravens face a team which struggles to defend the run, so Ray Rice might get a chance to have another big workload.
Another area where the Chargers have had issues this season is third-down defense, as they’ve allowed opponents to convert nearly half of their third-down opportunities.
I think the key to this game will be the amount of pressure the Ravens will be able to get on Rivers. San Diego’s offensive line is incredibly beat up (they’ve started a whopping 11 linemen this season due to injuries), and if the Ravens can exploit some matchups up front and get to Rivers quickly, he won’t have time to look downfield and exploit the Chargers’ size advantage.
As far as a prediction, I’m torn on this game. I think the Ravens are the superior team and should theoretically come out of San Diego with a win and an 11-3 record, but something about this matchup just doesn’t feel right to me. The Chargers - who are two games back in their division with three to play - are essentially playing for their season, and their pass-focused offense is exactly the style which has given the Ravens issues over the last couple years.
I’m going to take the Chargers 24-20, but don’t at all feel confident in that pick.
What about you? Do you think the Ravens pick up a big primetime road win and get another step closer to that No. 1 seed, or does this matchup against a hot and cold Chargers team smell like trouble to you?
Who you got?