Written by: Joe Carlino
Previous Matchup: Two weeks ago, the Chargers and Ravens met up in the Saturday night finale, with the Ravens defense forcing two turnovers and returning one for a score in a 22-10 victory. Philip Rivers, like most top-tier quarterbacks, looked pedestrian against this defense, and consistently made curious mistakes that he didn’t do against the Chiefs in a miraculous come-from-behind victory. The win also allowed the Ravens to take the lead in the AFC North, which they would clinch with their win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
Offense: The Chargers offense has been one of the more explosive offenses this season, and it starts with the quarterback and running back. Philip Rivers continues to leave a lasting legacy as to why he’s the best quarterback to never win the Super Bowl, but this is arguably the most complete offense he’s played with. Melvin Gordon is a top-tier talent at running back, and is easily in consideration for top-5 currently playing, because his style of play is just so hard to defend. Keenan Allen is still a competent deep threat receiver, so it’s necessary to make sure he doesn’t beat you. And in the tight end category, while Antonio Gates is still playing for his amusement, so to speak, the possibility that Hunter Henry, who has been sidelined with an ACL injury, could be playing in this game. To add his style back into the fold just might give Los Angeles that extra mojo they’ll need to walk in and out of Baltimore with the win.
The Ravens offense has been all over the place this season. Prior to Lamar Jackson becoming the starter, the team was sitting at 4-5 with virtually no chance of making the playoffs. However, it’s amazing what a fresh change of pace can do, because with “Action Jackson” in the driver’s seat, the Ravens offense has evolved beyond anyone’s beliefs, bringing up the Michael Vick comparisons. Jackson’s ability to run the zone read to perfection always has to keep opposing defenses on their toes, which can make them misread a play and be set up for a big play that will jumpstart the Ravens offense. Also, a side note: Lamar Jackson leads the NFL in rushing attempts on third down for the season, despite starting in Week 11.
It’s close to really tell who has the better offense of the two squads, because in their previous matchup, one looked good while the other was rendered obsolete by a smothering defense. However, when looking at a full body of work, the Chargers have the advantage in offense, starting with Rivers and Gordon. Those two have combined for memorable games and comebacks in their time together, and when focusing on the entire season, we’ve only got 7 games of Lamar and Co. compared to a season of Rivers and Gordon. Throw in Keenan Allen into the mix, and it’s even more explosive.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Defense: The Chargers have a great defensive unit that can make even the best opposing offenses look silly. The main reason is who’s rushing the passer from the sides. On one end, it’s Joey Bosa; the other side Melvin Ingram. Basically, offensive lines need to step their game up to prevent these guys from running amok on the quarterback, because if one mistake is made, they’ll smell it. And if they can’t reach the quarterback, Derwin James is an elite safety despite being in his rookie campaign. The kid can flat out ball, which is critical for overall success in the secondary. If one of his fellow players messes up by misreading a route, they know he’ll be there to provide assistance in any way possible.
Baltimore’s defense is the best in the NFL, surrendering only 292.9 YPG this season, which is arguably one of the better defenses any of us have ever witnessed. Terrell Suggs is still playing at a very high level, and his supporting cast continues to make plays when necessary.
Of course Baltimore has the advantage when it comes to defense; they’re the best statistically throughout the league. That is a huge plus going into the playoffs, because if they were to potentially make it to the Super Bowl, one can almost pencil them in for another Lombardi. Don’t get me wrong though; I like Derwin James and the combo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is dominant, but statistics don’t lie.
Special Teams: This area, like the defensive side of the ball, screams advantage Baltimore, and for good measure. Justin Tucker is still the most accurate kicker in the game’s history, and his drive has only intensified since that fateful first PAT miss against the Saints. Meanwhile, the Chargers still have trouble finding a competent kicker (like most of the league), so it can be tough when you need a big kick to get some points, and they miss. Because of that, the Ravens have the edge in special teams.
Coaching: John Harbaugh, despite all the challenges he’s faced recently, has put his team in the best position to succeed for this playoff run. His defense is tough, and they’re reacting to Lamar Jackson’s personality, which is great. Meanwhile, the Chargers have a Coach of the Year candidate in Anthony Lynn, and if he can win this game after losing the same matchup at home two weeks ago, it’ll only solidify his case. John may have a Lombardi to his name, but don’t be surprised if Lynn can do that this year.
Prediction: The old adage in sports that continues to stand the test of time is “defense wins championships”. Even with a subpar or average offense, if a defense can shut down a high-powered offense, then it’s easy to escape with some critical wins down the stretch. I like the Chargers’ offense, but we saw what happened when they faced Baltimore; like everyone else, it was shut down. I’d like to see Rivers contend for a Super Bowl, but I can’t shake that performance off. Ravens will advance in this game not just because of their defense, but because of the location of this game.
Baltimore 25, Los Angeles 21