The 2020 Baltimore Ravens need to seize the opportunity they have and get hot at the right time with the NFL season winding down. After dropping their Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore was in a hole. They had lost three straight games for the first time in the Lamar Jackson era and sank to the ninth seed in the AFC with a record of 6-5.
Since losing that game, Baltimore has begun to turn it around. The Ravens essentially had to win their remaining five games of the regular season to guarantee a playoff spot in 2020. They have now won their past two contests and appear to be gaining momentum at a great time. Baltimore first dominated the Dallas Cowboys 34-17 and second, won a game of the year candidate-level thriller against the Cleveland Browns 47-42. Their win over the Browns wasn’t pretty but it was a large win over a good team and division rival. It was also perhaps Jackson’s best game of the season so far.
Baltimore’s win over the Browns on Monday Night paired with the Las Vegas Raiders loss on Thursday Night puts the Ravens almost completely in control of their playoff destiny in 2020. The Ravens will likely be battling with the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins for the last playoff spot.
The Ravens' playoff chances increased from 85.7% to 89% when the Raiders lost to the Chargers on Thursday night.
Current playoff chances for AFC wild-card contenders
Source: ESPN analytics
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) December 18, 2020
Getting hot before the playoffs is the easiest way to have success in January and the Ravens are trending in the right direction. While a team’s resume matters, how a team finishes the season usually correlates with their level of postseason success. The Ravens still have to win their last three games to guarantee a shot at the playoffs but are getting hot at the right time and could be turning themselves from playoff hopefuls into Super Bowl contenders.
It’s Time for the 2020 Baltimore Ravens to Get Hot
Lamar Jackson Is Finding His Form
While the Ravens quarterback has not been much of a problem in 2020, Jackson’s play had left just a little to be desired through three months of football. The Ravens offense has sputtered at times throughout the season and Jackson is always at the center of their success or failures. Jackson did not throw the ball a ton during the 2019 season when he was named the unanimous-NFL MVP but Baltimore’s passing attack was ranked second-worst in the league through 11 weeks. Their rushing attack had accumulated the most yards in the league but the combination of a bad passing offense and great running game netted the Ravens just the 12th most points in the NFL.
Over the last two weeks, Jackson and the offense have looked completely rejuvenated. The Ravens have scored a total of 81 points in their last two games and registered 786 yards of total offense. Jackson’s QBR of 99.5 was the highest rating of any quarterback in a single game in 2020. His 124 rushing yards were the most during a Monday Night Football game ever as well.
Jackson has had a decent year to this point but his performances are getting better down the stretch. He has cleared the 100.0 passer rating mark in his last two games, while rushing for 9.91 yards per attempt and accounted for six total touchdowns. The Ravens rushing game leaves room for Jackson to occasionally make mistakes in the passing game but his overall performances of late have been very good. If the Ravens offense is to win-out and have playoff success, Baltimore need’s Jackson to be their best player.
This quote was from Chuck Clark: https://t.co/qohvWo5jKH
— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) December 15, 2020
Baltimore Can Dominate Their Remaining Schedule
The Ravens upcoming schedule is one of their easiest stretches of the season. Baltimore will host the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, and will then go to Paul Brown Stadium to face the Cincinnati Bengals. The three teams have a combined record of 8-28-1 and have each beaten only one team with a record currently over .500.
Week 15 – Jacksonville is currently riding the second-longest losing streak in the NFL. The Jaguars have lost their last 12 games and have lost six of those games by two or more scores. They are also ranked dead-last in the NFL in total defense. Jacksonville is giving up an average of 145.5 rushing yards per game. After putting up 294 yards against the Cowboys’ last-ranked rush defense two weeks ago, Jackson, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins are likely looking to gash the Jaguars on the ground in a similar fashion.
Week 16 – The Giants pose the most realistic threat to the Ravens going 5-0 to close out the season. New York’s defense has made leaps and bounds since early in 2020 and houses both the league’s 10th-ranked total defense and scoring defense. Despite this, Baltimore has one significant advantage — their ability to force fumbles. Since his first NFL start in Week 3 of 2019, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has the most fumbles amongst quarterbacks with 28. The Baltimore defense has forced a league-high 24 forced fumbles in 2020. Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Marlon Humphrey has eight on his own. Jones is also the fourth-most sacked quarterback in that time frame. If there was ever a game for the Ravens pass rush to iron out its kinks, it’s against the Giants.
Week 17 – While the Ravens have always struggled away against the Bengals, Cincinnati is far from a perfect team in 2020. Joe Burrow managed to pull his lowly team to two wins through 11 weeks but the Bengals have struggled mightily without him. Cincinnati has scored double-digit points just once in their four games without Burrow. In the 12 games that Jackson has started in 2020, Baltimore has scored 24+ points 10 times.
Playoff Expectations for the 2020 Baltimore Ravens
Between Week 1 and Week 15 of the NFL season, the Ravens’ expectations have somewhat been altered. There was even a time in which many predicted the Ravens to be favored in every game they played all season long. Now at 8-5, their reality is a lot less sweet. It is impossible to argue a team should go undefeated before the season even begins but Baltimore had sky-high expectations to start the season. Between them and the Kansas City Chiefs, many pundits didn’t even give another team a shot at winning the AFC.
The Steelers have all but locked up the AFC North at 11-2 so if the Ravens make the playoffs, it will more than likely be as a wild-card team. The expectations for wild-card teams are by and large lower than those of a division champ. This could potentially play in the Ravens’ favor. Coming into the year, the narrative surrounding the Ravens was if they could finally make a stable playoff run with Jackson at quarterback. He is 0-2 in his first two career playoff starts. Because of the Ravens’ failure to replicate their 14-2 2019 season, Baltimore’s playoff expectations are no longer Super Bowl-or-bust.
The Ravens may have underperformed on the season so far, but if they get hot, they could still make a run at a Super Bowl. Winning championships usually comes down to playing your best football at the end of the year and Baltimore is playing with motivation at a time in which they need it most. Combined with that the subdued media pressure on Jackson and the Ravens could be a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.