The Ravens holding a 6-5 record going into December is very familiar territory.
For the third straight year, John Harbaugh’s team is a game above .500 and occupying a playoff spot going into the final month of the season. But we know how that turned out the last two seasons, and the Ravens now begin a daunting stretch of three road games over the next four weeks.
Atlanta has dropped to 4-7 after a three-game losing streak, but Baltimore’s only December road victory over the last three seasons came against winless Cleveland last year. In other words, the Ravens have no reason to feel overconfident against a team circling the drain in the NFC playoff race.
It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the sixth time in the all-time regular-season series. The Ravens hold a 3-2 advantage, but they were 1-2 at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ former home before Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened last year.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Gus Edwards will rush for over 100 yards for the third consecutive game. Alex Collins going to injured reserve reinforces what we already knew: Edwards is the No. 1 guy. Much was made about the poor Cincinnati and Oakland defenses the last two weeks, but Edwards will now face a Falcons defense ranking 25th in rushing yards allowed and 30th in yards per carry allowed (5.1). Atlanta will sell out to limit Lamar Jackson’s rushing opportunities, which will allow Edwards to become the first Ravens running back since Justin Forsett in 2014 to eclipse the century mark in three consecutive contests.
2. Julio Jones will catch a touchdown despite being held under 100 yards for the first time since Week 5. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Ravens approach Jones and whether Marlon Humphrey or Jimmy Smith travels with him — likely with some safety help. You don’t stop a generational talent like Jones, who has registered at least six catches and 100 yards in six straight games, but the goal is preventing him from wrecking the game. The problem will be accounting for Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu in the process. Jones will find the end zone for only the fourth time this season.
3. Two turnovers will overshadow an otherwise solid day for Jackson in his first road start. There is much to like about the rookie, but a road game provides new challenges for a young quarterback that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Ravens will again lean heavily on the run, but a better opposing offense will force Jackson into more passing spots late. Protecting the football is even more critical on the road, but Jackson has tossed three interceptions and experienced a couple hiccups at the mesh point of zone-read handoffs. Similar miscues will be costly and offset some impressive moments.
4. The Baltimore defense will surrender a late touchdown pass to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. An opposing tight end has caught a touchdown against the Ravens in four of the last five games, and Hooper is capable enough of causing some problems as the secondary tries to slow such a talented wide receiver trio. How Ravens safeties and linebackers handle Hooper and running back Tevin Coleman as a receiver out of the backfield will be a substantial key. Chuck Clark filling in for the injured Tony Jefferson doesn’t bring a major drop-off at safety, but Matt Ryan will find Hooper in a critical spot.
5. The recent history of December struggles will continue as the Ravens fall 27-20 to Atlanta. In case you were wondering, I’d still be picking the Falcons if a healthy Joe Flacco was under center this week. I don’t expect the environment to be too big for Jackson, but lost in the hype of a revamped running game is the fact that the Ravens scored four offensive touchdowns at home against two dreadful defenses, which isn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps the Falcons have quit after three straight losses, but their offense is too talented on paper to continue to underperform, especially with extra rest after a Thanksgiving night game. On the flip side, the Baltimore defense has a total of two takeaways and six sacks over its last five games and just doesn’t make enough dynamic plays despite its impressive statistical profile. The Ravens offense is an underwhelming 4-for-8 inside the red zone the last two weeks, and Baltimore ranks 22nd in red-zone defense entering Week 13. That area of the field will be the difference in a tight game.