8:15 PM EST, CBS – Line: Ravens -9, Over/Under: 47.5
The NFL Playoffs roll on into the Division Round, as the AFC’s No. One Overall Seed, Baltimore Ravens, play host to the upstart Tennessee Titans, who look to spring yet another major upset, from M&T Bank stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. For the second time in three years, the Titans (9-7, 2nd in AFC South) have snuck into the Playoffs and managed to overcome significant odds and slay one of the fiercest giants. Back in 2017, Tennessee backed into the Postseason despite losing three of their final four contests of the campaign, though booked passage via a narrow victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Season Finale (15-10). From there, they traveled to Arrowhead Stadium where they met the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs, whom they rallied back from an early 0-14 deficit, to score the final nineteen points of the night, stunning the crowd with a 22-21 victory. On that day, Titans’ Tailback, Derrick Henry (303 CAR, 1,540 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 16 TD), utterly destroyed the Chiefs’ Defense, pounding his way to 156 Yards and a Touchdown on Twenty-Three Carries, punctuated by a 35-Yard Score down the left sideline early in the Fourth Quarter. Furthermore, the visitors controlled the game by grinding away 202 Rushing Yards on Thirty-One Carries, calmly converting 8-of-13 Third Downs, and shutting down the hosts’ explosive Offense, relegating them to a mere 325 Total Yards and Nineteen First Downs in frigid temperatures. If you’re wondering why we’ve chosen to go into such detail about this particular affair, just give us a moment, and everything will make sense. Flash forward two years, and once again we have the Titans, this time under the watchful eye of Mike Vrabel, needing a victory in the Season Finale (which they received against the Houston Texans, 35-14) to get into the Playoffs, where they would have to travel to another perennial heavyweight, this time the reigning Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots, in inclement weather as considerable underdogs. Ladies and gentlemen, this one played almost identically to it’s predecessor two years prior, as Tennessee relentlessly worked their way to a shocking 20-13 victory. Though they only managed to 272 Yards of Total Offense, Vrabel’s charges came in with a clear game plan, and that was punishing the Patriots on the ground, which they did to the tune of 201 Yards on a whopping Forty Carries. Just as he did to years ago, Henry was a proverbial wrecking ball, rushing for 182 Yards and a Touchdown on Thirty-Four Carries, giving the visitors a late 14-13 lead late in the First Half that they wouldn’t relinquish. It’s no surprise that Henry was able to make his mark once more, for anyone who has been paying attention to the former Heisman-winner will tell you that this year’s Rushing Champion has finally lived up to his considerable potential. Indeed, the 26-Year Old couldn’t have picked a better time to take his game to another level, leading the NFL in Rushing Attempts (303), Yards (1,540), and Touchdowns (16), with that second figure ranking eighth for a single season over the past decade. The former 45th Overall Pick has made himself a wealth of money this Offseason when he’ll become an Unrestricted Free Agent, though it’s hard to imagine Tennessee not breaking the bank to keep in Nashville for the foreseeable future. However, back to Saturday’s upset, the Patriots would threaten them until the end, though their final possession, which began on their own 1-Yard Line with just fifteen seconds remaining in the game, ended as quickly as it began, as New England Quarterback, Tom Brady’s, attempt was deflected into the air where it was snared by his former teammate, Logan Ryan (113 TKL, 4 TFL, 8 QBH, 4.5 SK, 4 FF, 4 INT, 18 PD), who hurried into the End Zone for the clinching Touchdown as time expired. The Defense which has been solid throughout 2019, was excellent in confounding Brady and the Pats, limiting them to a just 307 Total Yards, Eighteen First Downs, 5-of-13 on Third Downs, and Two Turnovers. Brady himself completed 20-of-37 Passes for 209 Yards and that Pick-Six, struggling to get much of anything going against the Titans, particularly in the Second Half; the home side had five possessions over that span in which they mustered a mere Eighty-Five Yards, punting on each of the first four before that last series ended in the Interception. Ryan Tannehill (70.3%, 2,742 YDS, 7.98 NY/A, 22 TD, 7 INT, 65.4 QBR), who was revitalized after coming over from the Miami Dolphins, wasn’t asked to do much, completing just 8-of-15 Passes for Seventy-Two Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, but did just enough to outduel arguably the greatest to ever do it. The former 8th Overall Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was stuck in football limbo towards the end of his stay with the Dolphins, missing all of 2017 and much of the following term due to tearing multiple ligaments in his knee, arriving in Tennessee as a seasoned backup to their own injury-plagued Quarterback, Marcus Mariota (59.4%, 1,203 YDS, 5.63 NY/A, 7 TD, 2 INT, 31.4 QBR), whom they drafted Second Overall back in 2015. Of course, Mariota has struggled throughout most of his tenure with club thanks to a revolving door of Offensive Coordinators with different ideas and an injury history has caused him to miss nine games over the past five years, further stunting his development. As many predicted, he stumbled out of the gate in 2019, completing just 59.1% of his Attempts for an average of 196.5 Yards on 6.39 Net Yards per Attempt, with Seven Touchdowns and Two Interceptions through the first Six Games, in which the Titans went 2-4. After going 7-of-18 with Sixty-three Yards and a pair of Interceptions in a 0-16 shutout at the Denver Broncos, he was benched in favor of Tannehill, who became a revelation for the franchise; since becoming the Starter back on October 20th, the 31-Year Old guided them to a 7-3 finish down the stretch, completing 70.3% of his Passes for an 228.5 Yards per Gama league-best 7.98 Net Yards per Attempt, with Twenty-Two Touchdowns in comparison to just Six Interceptions. His inclusion has unlocked the Passing Game for Tennessee, with young playmakers such as Rookie Receiver, A.J. Brown (52 REC, 1,051 YDS, 202 Y/R, 8 TD), and Tight End, Jonnu Smith (35 REC, 439 YDS, 12.5 Y/R, 5 TD), rising to the forefront, particularly the former who put together five 100-Yard Games this season.
Meanwhile, anybody who claims that they saw this coming from the Ravens (14-2, 1st in AFC North) is a bold-faced liar. Fresh off a 10-6 campaign resulting in their first Division Title since 2012, nobody, and we mean NOBODY could have predicted that Baltimore would run through the 2019 in as dominant fashion as they have en route to a franchise-best 14-2 record and the first No. One Seed in team history. Of course, the biggest difference between this year and the last has been the meteoric rise of Sophomore Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (66.1%, 3,127 YDS, 7.13 NY/A, 36 TD, 6 INT, 81.1 QBR), who has taken the league by storm this season on his way towards being the odds-on favorite for MVP. In an era when passing the football has become so en vogue, John Harbaugh’s charges have been successful this season in taking the game back to it’s earlier stages, pummeling their opponents with the run, which if you think about it is really rather brilliant. Think about it folks: with the league leaning so heavily towards the pass in recent years, Defenses have responded with putting smaller, faster players at positions that were traditionally geared towards to stopping the run, in order to combat the prevalence of Multi-Receiver Formations. Harbaugh, along with Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, in turn came to the logical conclusion that if their opponents are playing base Pass Defense with smaller personnel, then let’s make them pay with Running Game, which has netted remarkable results in 2019. Simply put, the Ravens have been the most successful rushing team in the NFL in ages, averaging a staggering 206.0 Yards per Game (1st Overall) on the ground this year on 37.3 Attempts (1st Overall) parlaying into a very healthy 5.5 Yards per Carry (1st Overall). And this is where Jackson’s unique skillset has come into play; the former Heisman shattered Michael Vick’s Single-Season Rushing Record for the position, totaling a whopping 1,206 Rushing Yards along with Seven Touchdowns. To put this into proper perspective, not only did Jackson lead his team in rushing, but he ranked Sixth Overall, better than established Tailbacks such as Dalvin Cook (1,135), Saquon Barkley (1,003), Adrian Peterson (898), Todd Gurley (857), Alvin Kamara (797), and Le’Veon Bell (789). Veteran Tailback, Mark Ingram (202 CAR, 1,018 YDS, 5.0 Y/C, 10 TD), who arrived via Free Agency from New Orleans played the perfect complement, rushing for 1,018 Yards and a team-high Ten Touchdowns at the age of thirty, which is when most players at his position start tailing off (no pun intended). However, as dominant as this team was on the ground in 2019, the real reason they’ve been so successful has been the exponential improvement that Jackson has shown as a passer. As a rookie, he was clearly limited with what he could do out of the Pocket, completing just 58.2% of his Attempts for an average of 75.1 Yards per Game on 6.08 Net Yards per Attempt, with a meager Six Touchdowns and Three Interceptions. His limitations were exploited mercilessly in last year’s Wild Card matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, who clearly learned from their first encounter with the Signal-Caller, relegating him to a pedestrian 14-of-29 Passing for 194 Yards with Seven Sacks in a 17-23 defeat. Many used that outcome to further the agenda that Jackson should never have been a Quarterback at this level in the first place, citing that some teams throughout the evaluation process recommended that he change positions altogether. Of course, the faithful in Baltimore are happy to see him prove those doubters profoundly wrong, for not only has this kid proven that he can make plays with his arm, he’s exhibited that he can do so at the highest of levels. In just his second season as the Starter, Jackson has improved significantly across the board, completing 66.1% of his Passes for an average of 208.5 Yards per Game on 7.13 Net Yards per Attempt, with a league-best Thirty-Six Touchdowns in comparison just Six Interceptions. Furthermore, he tossed at least Three Touchdowns in Eight Games, throwing four or more on four occasions. And if that’s not enough for you, there was a seven-game stretch in which Baltimore aced a proverbial who’s who of Playoff Teams, utterly crushing them, besting the likes of the Seattle Seahawks (30-16), New England Patriots (37-20), Houston Texans (41-7), Los Angeles Rams (45-6), San Francisco 49ers (20-17), and Buffalo Bills (24-17) in the process. During this period of time, Jackson completed 67.8% of his Attempts for an average of 167.1 Yards per Game on 7.6 Net Yards per Attempt with a ridiculous Seventeen Touchdowns opposed to one Interception, while rushing for another 79.6 Yards per Game and Five Touchdowns. After resting the majority of their Starting Lineup in the Season Finale coupled with the luxury of the First Round Bye Week, the Ravens should be at full-strength for this matchup with the Titans.