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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for AFC wild-card game

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens last hosted a playoff game six years ago.

Ray Lewis is in the Hall of Fame, Ed Reed will join him in a few weeks, and Joe Flacco has quite possibly already played his final snap as a Raven. Baltimore had made the playoffs just once since that last home playoff win over Indianapolis, but the start of the Lamar Jackson era seven weeks ago has created an energy not seen in these parts in quite some time. Winners of six of their last seven to clinch the AFC North title, the Ravens hope that vibe carries them to victory in Sunday’s wild-card game.

Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished tied for the third-best record in football and had the misfortune of being in the same division as No. 1 seed Kansas City. Despite traveling to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, Anthony Lynn’s team is 8-0 in contests played outside Los Angeles this season, which included wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. Of course, the Ravens toppled the Chargers 22-10 in their Week 16 meeting to improve to 7-5 in the all-time regular-season series. Baltimore owns a 3-1 record against them at M&T Bank Stadium, but the teams split the last two games there in 2014 and 2015 with the outcomes decided by a combined four points.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. The Chargers will speed up the pace and spread out the Baltimore defense for an early touchdown. The Ravens controlled the tempo throughout the Week 16 meeting, harassing Philip Rivers with blitzes that the Chargers rarely had answers for. This time, I expect Los Angeles to use some no-huddle and empty formations to try to slow the pass rush and keep the Ravens off-balance early on. It’s worth noting Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen is healthier this time around and will find space for an early touchdown reception after being held to a quiet five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting.

2. Gus Edwards will rush for a career-high 120 yards and a score. The Chargers use the dime package more than anyone in the NFL, which helped them hold Jackson to just 39 rushing yards in Week 16. However, a lighter front leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to the dive plays so frequently run by Edwards. To their credit, the Chargers slowed down the 238-pound rookie in the second half, but he still managed 92 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago. Making matters worse, Los Angeles nose tackle Brandon Mebane isn’t expected to play, making the front seven even more vulnerable against power runs.

3. Jackson will run for more yards than Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. We’ve spent ample time talking about the Ravens’ running game, but has anyone noticed what their rush defense has done since the bye week? Opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and only two players have managed as much as 60 rushing yards against them over the last seven contests. Gordon is a dynamic player capable of leaving a huge mark in his first NFL playoff game, but he’s more likely to do that as a receiver out of the backfield. I also expect Jackson to find more daylight as the game progresses with the Chargers tweaking their front to account for the inside power runs.

4. A long Cyrus Jones punt return will set up a Ravens touchdown. The running game and a dominant defense have received most of the credit for the post-bye turnaround, but the special teams rose from a pedestrian 13th in special teams DVOA at the bye to sixth by season’s end. Football Outsiders rated Baltimore’s punt return unit second in the league while the Chargers’ punt unit was rated next to last. That disparity didn’t show up to any dramatic degree in Week 16, but Jones has offered a boost in the field-position game since becoming the punt returner and will break a long one on Sunday.

5. Another strong defensive effort will send Baltimore to the divisional round with a 20-17 win. The Chargers were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but the first meeting showed this isn’t a great matchup for them. I expect their offense to put up a better fight than it did a couple weeks ago, but Rivers isn’t mobile enough to give the blitz-heavy Ravens the same degree of trouble as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Credit Los Angeles for doing a better job against the Baltimore running game than any other team over the last two months, but absences at the wrong spots on its dime defense will lead to the Ravens staying more consistent on the ground in the second half. It will be another close game because that’s just a product of the style these current Ravens play, but another complementary effort will be enough to defeat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks. John Harbaugh will improve to 6-0 in wild-card playoff games.

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Ravens-Chargers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ path to an AFC wild card took another hit Saturday before their critical contest against the Los Angeles Chargers.

With Tennessee beating Washington earlier in the day, Baltimore needs a win to remain in wild-card contention. A loss would leave the Ravens needing Pittsburgh to lose its last two games to give them the opportunity to still win the AFC North with a Week 17 win over Cleveland. In other words, John Harbaugh’s team needs a win.

The biggest surprise among the Ravens’ inactives was running back Buck Allen being a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Versatile running back Ty Montgomery was deactivated last week, but he is active for Week 16, joining starter Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon in the backfield rotation.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is officially inactive and will miss his third straight game, meaning veteran James Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard. The pair rotated at the position in last week’s win over Tampa Bay.

In bigger news, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The Pro Bowl wideout suffered a hip pointer in a Week 15 Thursday game, but the extra rest helped in his recovery as he was able to practice on a limited basis by the end of the week.

Los Angeles also welcomes back Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon after a three-game absence due to a knee injury. Backup running back Austin Ekeler (neck) is inactive after being listed as doubtful.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Clete Blakeman.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Los Angeles dons navy blue jerseys and navy blue pants for Week 16.

Saturday marks the 12th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 against Baltimore in San Diego, but this marks the first game between these teams since the former’s move to Carson.

Below are Saturday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
RB Buck Allen
DL Zach Sieler
FB/DL Patrick Ricard

LOS ANGELES
RB Austin Ekeler
RB Troymaine Pope
C Cole Toner
TE Sean Culkin
WR Dylan Cantrell
DE Anthony Lanier
DT T.Y. McGill

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Anything short of a win over the Los Angeles Chargers will leave the Ravens needing something close to a Christmas miracle to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

A victory won’t come easy as Baltimore will be playing the most balanced team in the conference that still has much to play for itself with the AFC West and home-field advantage still up for grabs. The Chargers certainly present the biggest defensive test the Ravens’ revamped offense will have encountered since the bye week.

Frankly, this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s team just hasn’t won in December in the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with several commendable efforts ending in heartbreak.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 playing Baltimore in San Diego, but the Ravens are 3-2 against them in the John Harbaugh era with the last meeting being a 29-26 Ravens win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. John Brown will catch a long touchdown. Lamar Jackson is a limited passer right now despite his electrifying mobility that’s helped the Ravens to this point. However, the one area of the field where Jackson has had success is the short middle (under 15 yards through the air) where he’s posted a 98 passer rating and completed 77 percent of his attempts, per SharpFootballStats.com. The problem is the Chargers defense has been very effective in that area, ranking first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against short passes and first against tight ends. However, the Chargers rank last in DVOA against deep passes over 15 yards in the air. Jackson is due to connect on a long one, and opportunities will be there.

2. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will collect 125 total yards and a touchdown with much damage coming on passes. Los Angeles went 3-0 without the Pro Bowl running back, which speaks to how deep this offense is. The returning Gordon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but the biggest challenge he presents against a superb run defense is his ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Two weeks ago, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed 10 passes to running backs in an effort to offset Baltimore’s pass rush, and I expect Philip Rivers to do the same. The difference is Gordon is more dangerous in the open field than any of the Chiefs’ current backs.

3. The Ravens will be held under 160 rushing yards for the first time since Week 9. This ground game is too good to be completely shut down at this point, especially with Greg Roman’s reputation for consistently adding new wrinkles. However, the Chargers do possess the best run defense the Ravens have seen since before the bye, and rookie safety Derwin James is the type of player who just might be able to bottle up Jackson more than previous teams could. The Chiefs held Baltimore to an ordinary 3.6 yards per carry after being gashed in the first quarter, which is why it’s critical for the Ravens to grab an early lead while the Chargers adjust to the shock of Jackson’s speed and this run game.

4. Los Angeles edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will combine for three sacks. Bosa and Ingram will give Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. problems, but how they hold the edge will be crucial this week with Jackson’s ability to run. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon will try to get to Rivers, but the veteran has the ninth-fastest average time to throw from snap to release in the NFL and will use quick passes to Keenan Allen, who poses a challenge in the slot. The short week is also a factor as Judon has nursed a minor knee injury and Suggs was already quiet against Tampa Bay after playing a season-high 70 snaps in Kansas City. The Ravens need pressure from Za’Darius Smith inside.

5. More balance and extra rest will be the difference for the Chargers as the Ravens fall 26-17. I don’t believe this is a bad matchup for Baltimore as Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith have enough size to combat the tall Los Angeles receivers, but I’m not confident enough in a one-dimensional offense producing enough points to offset the times when the Ravens defense is unable to get stops like we saw in the fourth quarter and overtime in Kansas City. The Chargers haven’t been held under 20 points in a game all season, and the revamped Ravens haven’t shown the ability to score into the high 20s without at least one touchdown from the defense or special teams. A cross-country trip on a short week also does veterans and a rookie quarterback no favors. It will be a close one throughout, but a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Rivers to Allen will put the game away for the Chargers and leave the Ravens scoreboard watching for the rest of the weekend.

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Ravens list four players as questionable for Chargers game

Posted on 20 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are as healthy as they could reasonably hope to be going into Week 16 and their biggest game of the season.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee), tight end Nick Boyle (concussion), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) are all listed as questionable for Saturday’s contest against the Los Angeles Chargers, but Lewis was the only player not to practice fully on Thursday. After being cleared from the concussion protocol, Boyle appears likely to play, which is a positive development with his significant blocking role in Baltimore’s rush-heavy offense.

“He’s progressing well, and we’ll just have to see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’ll be a little bit of a decision on Saturday — maybe today — to see how he gets through the practice and everything [and] see how he feels.”

Levine was a full participant after missing practice on Tuesday and Wednesday as he’s nursed a nagging ankle issue for several weeks.

The Chargers are also getting healthy at the right time as Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (knee) wasn’t included in the final game status report after practicing fully all week. Gordon will be making his return after a three-game absence and could present a matchup problem as a receiver out of the backfield as he’s caught 44 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games this season. The fourth-year back has rushed for nine touchdowns and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2018.

Los Angeles hopes to have Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen back on the field, another significant development for Saturday’s game. The 6-foot-2 target suffered a hip pointer in last week’s win at Kansas City, but he was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday and was designated as questionable. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Allen is expected to play and has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns once again serving as Philip Rivers’ favorite target.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: TE Sean Culkin (back)
DOUBTFUL: RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Keenan Allen (hip)

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Ravens looking healthy while Chargers receiver Allen returns to practice

Posted on 19 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Only one Ravens player missed Wednesday’s practice for a health-related reason, but a significant injury-related development came on the other side of their Week 16 showdown.

Just a day after Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said wide receiver Keenan Allen could be a game-time decision on Saturday, the Pro Bowl selection returned to the practice field. Allen suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City, but his limited participation in the middle of the week would indicate him having a good chance to play against Baltimore. The 26-year-old has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (knee) practiced fully for the second straight day as he prepares to return to action for the first time since Week 12. Meanwhile, backup running back Austin Ekeler remains sidelined with a neck injury and concussion.

Ravens defensive back Anthony Levine missed practice for the second straight day with toe and ankle ailments, but the veteran was spotted running and doing agility work on the side field with a member of the training staff during the portion of practice open to media. Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Keenan Allen (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Judon, Boyle absent from Ravens practice on Tuesday

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two starters as they returned to the practice field ahead of Saturday night’s critical tilt with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (left knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) did not participate in Tuesday’s indoor walk-through session. Both players sustained their injuries during Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay, but Judon was able to return to action.

It remains unclear when exactly Boyle sustained the concussion, but he didn’t play in the second half as fellow third-year tight end Maxx Williams and rookies Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst picked up the slack. Boyle is regarded as a key cog in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes that have helped produce 190 or more rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since 1976.

“I can’t give Maxx enough credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “For Maxx to step in and not have any drop-off, and then Hayden and Mark came in and blocked really well. You obviously saw that. To me, it’s one of those unsung things that people don’t see. Those two guys stepped it up; they really did. We have a lot of depth.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine was also absent from Tuesday’s walk-through as he is now nursing a toe ailment in addition to the ankle issue that’s limited him in practices for several weeks.

Left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) returned to practice on a limited basis and is trying to avoid missing a third consecutive game.

The Chargers don’t yet know whether Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen will play on Saturday after he suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City last Thursday. However, Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon was a full participant on Tuesday and is expected to return after a three-game absence with a knee injury.

“Keenan could be a game-time decision,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “It just depends on how sore his hip is.”

Below is Tuesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Keenan Allen (hip), TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Both the Ravens and the San Diego Chargers entered 2015 with high expectations, making their records halfway through the season among the biggest surprises in the NFL.

Now, these struggling teams meet with their playoff hopes all but gone, but the 1-6 Ravens aim for a win to feel good about as they enter next week’s bye. Meanwhile, the Chargers sport the top-ranked passing game in the NFL, but they’ve been a difficult team to figure out after losing by just seven to undefeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field two weeks ago and then falling behind 30-3 to Oakland in the first half of a home loss last Sunday.

With some time off and a chance to escape a miserable season looming, it remains to be seen how focused the Ravens will be as they’ve lost two of their last three games going into their bye week under John Harbaugh.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and San Diego meet for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The teams have split 10 all-time meetings in the regular season with the Chargers winning two of the last three. The Ravens are 2-1 against San Diego in games played in Baltimore.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win its first game in three tries against an AFC West opponent this season …

1. The Ravens defense will finally force a turnover after a four-game drought. It’s been more than a month since Elvis Dumervil stripped Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley picked up the fumble and ran for a touchdown in the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, which was the last takeaway for Baltimore. Sporting just four takeaways in their first seven games, the Ravens are on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and tied last season. With 18 periods of football having passed without a Ravens takeaway, I won’t bother with specifics, but the defense will come away with one against a San Diego offense that will be throwing a lot and has had its own issues protecting the ball.

2. Chargers receiver Keenan Allen will catch 12 passes for over 130 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2 wideout is off to an incredible start with a whopping 62 catches for 690 yards and three touchdowns in seven games, and there’s not a single Ravens cornerback — including Jimmy Smith — playing with the confidence to slow Allen down right now. With the Baltimore secondary so concerned with giving up the big play, Allen will feast in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field while the Ravens give him plenty of cushion. In the Chargers’ 34-33 win over the Ravens last season, Allen caught 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns and he will post similar numbers on Sunday.

3. Joe Flacco will throw two touchdowns to tight ends against a banged-up San Diego defense. With Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle and starting inside linebacker Manti Te’o both out with injuries, Flacco should find room in the middle of the field for Crockett Gillmore and his two rookie tight ends to move the chains and make plays. The Chargers are allowing a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry and will stack the box trying to stop Justin Forsett, which should open the seam for Flacco to find Gillmore for a few chunk plays. With emerging second-year cornerback Jason Verrett matched against Steve Smith, the Ravens will need their tight ends to make plays in the middle of the field and they will.

4. Philip Rivers will become the second quarterback to throw for over 400 yards at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Considering journeyman Josh McCown passed for more than 450 yards against the Ravens in their last home game, there’s little reason to think a struggling defense will slow the NFL’s leading passer after Rivers nearly threw for 400 yards in last year’s win over Baltimore. With the Ravens only able to generate pressure using the blitz, Rivers will get rid of the ball quickly against a secondary reluctant to play press coverage. This will result in a long day for a Dean Pees defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in third-down defense.

5. Baltimore will not be able to overcome a short week and the league’s top-ranked passing game in a 30-24 loss. At first blush, I was inclined to pick the home team against a 2-5 opponent that was embarrassed at home by the Raiders a week ago, but coming off a short week is a bigger challenge than many think with the Ravens sporting a 3-5 record in games immediately following a Monday road game under John Harbaugh. Until the Ravens prove otherwise, I just can’t see them beating one of the top quarterbacks in the league when their own offense is so mediocre. We haven’t seen the Ravens make enough big plays on either side of the ball, and that will be the difference again in another close loss to a team that just isn’t a great matchup for them, especially with less time to prepare.

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