Sunday brings the final calm before a December storm that could impact the Ravens for years to come.
John Harbaugh’s team would move back above the .500 mark with a win over Oakland, but three of the next four on the road after that will determine whether the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time in four years. Failing to do so will likely spark substantial changes to both the coaching staff and the roster.
Simply put, a victory over the 2-8 Raiders is both expected and necessary.
It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the fourth consecutive season. Baltimore holds a 7-3 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and won the only postseason encounter in the 2000 AFC Championship. The Ravens have won five of the past seven games against Oakland dating back to the 2006 season.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Lamar Jackson will have fewer than 15 carries, but he will pass for 185 yards and a touchdown. With the Raiders having a full game tape and 26 carries being unsustainable on a weekly basis, Jackson won’t be setting records with his legs, but he’ll remain a big part of the ground attack. What will be more interesting is how much the coaching staff allows him to do as a passer against an Oakland defense that’s been poor in most areas. Jackson will have another up-and-down passing day, but he’ll make more throws in his second start and find ex-Raider Michael Crabtree for a touchdown.
2. Tight end Jared Cook will catch the Raiders’ lone touchdown of the game. Oakland has been gutted at the wide receiver position, but Cook has been a standout performer, leading the team with 577 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions and grading as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best tight end. It’s no secret the Ravens defense has had issues covering tight ends — and the middle of the field in general — so look for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to lean heavily on Cook for what modest success they’ll find moving the ball on Sunday.
3. There will be no takeaways, but Baltimore will collect four sacks. It’s been seven calendar weeks since the Ravens intercepted a pass and five weeks since they recovered a fumble. The Raiders have been average in the giveaway department despite their record. In other words, I’m not predicting another Ravens takeaway until it actually happens again. That said, Oakland has given up 33 sacks and will struggle to gain separation in pass routes, which will force Carr to hold the ball at times. This will allow the Ravens defense to break a slump that’s consisted of only three sacks over the last four games.
4. Three Ravens players will rush for 50 or more yards. Last week’s combination of Jackson and Gus Edwards was a terrific story, but I don’t believe it signals the end for Alex Collins, who has been successful in three-wide sets and with Jackson on the field despite his disappointing overall numbers. In an effort to protect their rookie quarterback from taking too many hits, the Ravens will give the ball to Collins more often while Edwards maintains a workload similar to last week. The rushing total won’t be as lucrative as last week (267), but Jackson, Edwards, and Collins will have strong days on the ground.
5. The Ravens will remain in relatively comfortable control throughout a 23-13 win over Oakland. It was easy to get carried away with the understandable excitement over Jackson’s first start, but Baltimore scored 24 points against a defense giving up 32.1 per game this season and surrendered 21 points to an offense that was without its best player. I’m intrigued with Jackson’s potential for the future, but the Ravens continuing last week’s playing style isn’t going to lead to many blowouts, which leads me to believe this one will stay a little closer than many are anticipating. I expect Jackson to neither struggle mightily nor play unbelievable football in his second start, which won’t do Harbaugh any favors in deciding how to handle the quarterback position in the month of December. That debate remains on hold, however, as the Ravens take care of business against an inferior opponent to improve to 6-5.