8:20 PM EST, FOX – Line: Ravens -14.5, Over/Under: 45.5
With the Regular Season nearing its conclusion, some teams find themselves making the necessary preparations for the Playoffs, while others simply look too end 2019 in strong fashion, with tonight’s combatants encapsulating those descriptions perfectly as the surging Baltimore Ravens play host to the New York Jets from M&T Bank Stadium, in Baltimore, Maryland. When this season finally comes to a close it will likely go down as a campaign of what may have been for the Jets (5-8, 3rd in AFC East), who over the second half of the term have looked far more competitive than they did in the first half. This was intended to be a year of rebirth for a club that had just endured their third consecutive losing season, and eighth straight without the Playoffs, with a new Head Coach and Staff led by Adam Gase, a number of high-profile acquisitions via Free Agency, such as former Pro-Bowl Tailback, Le’Veon Bell (183 CAR, 589 YDS, 3.2 Y/C, 3 TD), and Linebacker, C.J. Mosley (9 TKL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD), and the expected ascension of Sophomore Quarterback, Sam Darnold (62.2%, 2,424 YDS, 5.99 NY/A, 15 TD, 11 INT, 44.3 QBR), into the long-awaited Franchise Signal-Caller. Hell, New York took the rebranding one step further with newly designed uniforms to boot. Indeed, it was to be a new day for Gang Green, but unless something unforeseen happens, they will be ending 2019 with yet another losing record, thanks in large part to a term that was derailed early by injuries and in the case of Darnold, an expected case of Mononucleosis. That’s right, folks, of all the things to sink a professional football team, Mono is apparently the latest addition to the list, with last year’s Third Overall Pick missing Weeks Two through Five with the illness, leaving the Offense in astonishingly dismal shape. In those four games without the 22-Year Old, Gase’s charges went 0-3 and managed a miserable 7.7 Points per Game on just 165.0 Total Yards, while committing Five Turnovers. Granted, this unit didn’t fair much better after his return, with the Jets going 1-3 over their next four games, bringing their 2019 account to an abysmal 1-7 come early November. At this point, it was hard to fathom what wasn’t on the table for New York, with Gase firmly entrenched on the hot seat, a number of players lingering on the Trading Block, and at the eye of the storm a young Quarterback whose growth appeared stunted. Just when it appeared that the 2019 Season could be written off as yet another monumental disappointment, something interesting happened: they started winning games. In the five outings since the midway point of the term, the Jets have gone surprising 4-1, with the Offense leading the way averaging a solid 26.0 Points per Game on 348.0 Total Yards, while the Defense has buckled down in yielding 18.0 Points per Game on 270.6 Total Yards. To put this into proper perspective, the Offense has only produced 300 or more Total Yards on five occasions this year, with three of them coming in this particular stretch, while the Defense has relegated the opposition below that threshold five times in 2019, with all but one coming in the last five contests. To his credit, Darnold has appeared to have settled in now that that illness is in the rearview mirror, completing 61.3% of his attempts for an average of 269.4 Yards on 7.44 Net Yards per Attempt, with Nine Touchdowns in comparison to just two Interceptions during this run, exhibiting far better decision-making while also successfully pushing the football downfield. Gase was hired in large part due to his reputation working with Quarterbacks, and it must be a relief for the Front Office to see their prized asset overcoming such a poor start. The USC product has built a growing rapport with vertical threat, Robby Anderson (43 REC, 662 YDS, 15.4 Y/R, 4 TD), who in what is a crucial contract year, has come on in the last three games, reeling in Eighteen Receptions on Twenty-Six Targets for 303 Yards and Two Touchdowns. When we last saw them, the Jets rallied back to steal a narrow 22-21 victory at home against the Miami Dolphins, avenging a disappointing 18-26 defeat back in late October. Leading 16-6 following Darnold’s 14-Yard Touchdown to veteran Receiver, Demaryius Thomas (36 REC, 433 YDS, 12.0 Y/R, 1 TD), the hosts struggled to mount much of an offensive with their next five drives failing to result in points, with an Interception severing one and a Turnover on Downs ending another. During this stretch, the Dolphins managed to kick Four Field Goals to take the lead midway through the Fourth Quarter, with the two sides alternating Field Goals on their next two possessions. That’s when things got a little controversial; trailing by two points with Forty-Seven seconds left in the affair and facing a 3rd & 18 from roughly Midfield following a Sack of Darnold, the visitors were called for a questionable Pass Interference granting New York a new set of downs. Darnold would then find Ty Montgomery (11 REC, 84 YDS, 7.6 Y/R, 0 TD) for Twelve Yards and spiked the football Four Seconds remaining at Miami’s 26-Yard Line. From there, Place Kicker Sam Ficken, drilled the go-ahead 44-Yard Field Goal to earn the victory as time expired. It was an evenly-matched, ugly affair in which the home side racked up 374 Total Yards on Twenty-Two First Downs, with Darnold completing 20-of-36 Passes for 270 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, while the aforementioned Anderson hauled in Seven Catches for 116 Yards and a Touchdown, and Backup Tailback, Bilal Powell (51 CAR, 199 YDS, 3.9 Y/C, 0 TD), stepping up in the absence of an ill Bell, with Seventy-Four Rushing Yards on Nineteen Carries. While there is certainly an argument to be made that this is in fact the Jets team that they were intended to be heading into the season, it also must be noted that they’ve enjoyed this stellar stretch against what is clearly the softest portion of their schedule; their opponents over the last five games have been the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Dolphins, who together have mustered a cumulative record of just 15-50 (.231). The rest of the schedule will offer a significant bump in class, beginning tonight with the Ravens, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Buffalo Bills collectively 28-11 (.718).
Meanwhile, the only team in the AFC to have clinched their Division is the Ravens (11-2, 1st in AFC North), who are off to their best start in Franchise History and look to be the odds-on favorite to land the AFC’s No. Overall Seed in the Playoffs, which would be a first for club. We’d challenge you to find a more impressive team of late, for Baltimore has rolled through a veritable who’s who of the NFL’s elite over their last seven games, disposing of them with frightening ease. Winners of nine straight outings, John Harbaugh’s charges went to Seattle and bested the Seahawks 30-16, humbled the reigning Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots, 37-20 two weeks later on a Sunday Night, blasted the Houston Texans 41-7 two weeks afterward, absolutely embarrassed reigning the NFC Champion, Los Angeles Rams, 45-6 at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Monday Night Football the following week, survived a 20-17 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers in a monsoon, and most recently upended the upstart Buffalo Bills in swirling windy conditions 24-17 in Western New York. This run has really been rather remarkable for a variety of reasons, none more so than the cumulative difficulty of their opposition. If the Jets have had it easy during their recent string of success, the Ravens have been nothing short of astonishing going 9-0 against a collective of teams with a combined record of 65-39 (.625), including six teams currently qualifying for the Playoffs, and both of the participants in Super Bowl LIII. In fact, if you take away the two wins over the listless Cincinnati Bengals, who at 1-12 own the worst record in the league, their collective strength of schedule during this streak would sit at a ridiculous .703. After years of average to mediocre displays on the offensive side of the football, Harbaugh must be on cloud nine this year, with Baltimore leading the NFL with a whopping 33.1 Points per Game (1st Overall), built on the strength of the most-prolific rushing attack that the league has seen in ages, churning out a ridiculous 200.9 Rushing Yards (1st Overall) on a very healthy 5.5 Yards per Carry (1st Overall). In an era where everyone has been preoccupied with airing the football out, this group has been an unabashed throwback, with Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, once again working his magic in crafting a unique Gameplan that has routinely gotten the most out of stunning Sophomore Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (66.3%, 2,677 YDS, 6.97 NY/A, 28 TD, 6 INT, 78.2 QBR). It’s hard to fathom that the franchise envisioned this when they traded back into the First Round of the 2018 NFL Draft to select the former Heisman 32nd Overall, particularly given the volume of Quarterbacks that were selected before him. With many Scouts suggesting that he’d be better suited trying his hand at Running Back, the 22-Year Old has gone on to shatter those doubts en route to emerging as the frontrunner for MVP. Simply put, we haven’t seen this kind of talent since the days of Michael Vick, with Jackson becoming just the second player at his position in NFL History to rush for over 1,000 Yards, trailing the single-season record of 1,039 (set by Vick back in 2006) by a scant Twenty-Two Yards. With three games left, he’s almost sure to surpass that figure, possibly during tonight’s meeting with New York. To put his exploits into a clear perspective, Jackson has rushed for 1,017 Yards on a robust 6.7 Yards per Carry, with his season total ranking Ninth Overall ahead of the likes of lauded Rushers such as Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and Le’Veon Bell, with his Yards per Rush sitting atop the NFL altogether. To his credit, he’s proven to be much more than simply a rusher of the football, improving exponentially as a passer in his second season as a professional, raising his Completion Percentage (66.3%), Yards per Attempt (7.7), Net Yards per Attempt (6.97), Yards per Game (205.9), Passer Rating (109.2), and QBR (78.2), the latter of which leads the league. Furthermore, he’s thrown more Touchdown Passes (28) than anyone, which when coupled with his rushing total brings his account in 2019 to a staggering thirty-five scores. When we last saw him, he was tested by the elements for a second consecutive week, this time by the swirling winds of Buffalo, as he and the Ravens sought to pass the test of the Bills’ stout Defense. Even though they were held to a season-low 257 Total Yards, including 118 Rushing, the visitors still managed to earn a decisive 24-17 victory, thanks in large part to the heroics of their young Quarterback. Jackson completed 16-of-25 Passes for 145 Yards and Three Touchdowns and an Interception, while rushing for Forty Yards on Eleven Carries. It was far from a clean performance from Baltimore, who racked up Nine Penalties for Ninety-Nine Yards and converted on just 3-of-11 Third Downs, yet still managed to make enough plays to win their ninth consecutive game. However, this is one in which the Defense really came to play, vexing the hosts throughout the contest yielding just 209 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, limiting them to 4-of-17 on Third Downs, all the while making life miserable for Jackson’s Draft Classmate, Josh Allen, who could manage just 17-of-39 Passing for 146 Yards and was sacked six times for a loss of Thirty-Seven Yards, including a crucial Lost Fumble. Six different players contributed to that Sack Total, led by Edge-Rusher, Matt Judon (44 TKL, 13 TFL, 28 QBH, 8.5 SK, 3 FF), who had 1.5 along with a pair of Hits, a Tackle for Loss, and a Forced Fumble. Veteran Safety, Earl Thomas (42 TKL, 1 TFL, 5 QBH, 1.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 4 PD), continued to make plays for Baltimore following his acquisition during Free Agency, leading the team with Seven Tackles, One for Loss, a Sack, a Hit, and a Forced Fumble.