AFC Playoff Preview: Wildcard Weekend

L.A. Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

Sunday, January 6 th , 1:05 pm EST.

The AFC’s number four seed, the Ravens, are home favorites this weekend, but the sharps in Vegas don’t have much faith in them, giving them only a one-point edge over the visiting Chargers. The fact that they’re favored at all is probably based on Baltimore’s upset win in Los Angeles a few weeks back that kept LA out of the number one seed and lifted Baltimore into playoff contention. I like Baltimore’s defense to toughen up any game they’re in. They’re the number one total defense in the league and they can defend at all levels. They’re in the top five against both the run (82.9 YPG) and the pass (210 YPG). Interestingly, they’re the only unit that’s top five against the pass that made the playoffs. That balanced defense is just what we’ve come to expect from these Ravens. It’s just how they’re built, and the ability to consume massive amounts of clock with the league’s second-best rushing offense doesn’t hurt either. Lamar Jackson has been a revelation, if a one-dimensional one thus far. And paired with Gus Edwards in the ground game, the birds have been tough to beat since week eleven. But history isn’t on their side. Rookie QB’s seldom win in the playoffs, and even less against established veteran signal callers like Philip Rivers. The Chargers will want some revenge for the embarrassing week sixteen loss, the only game all season in which they’ve put up less than twenty points, and the only game all season in which Rivers didn’t throw a touchdown. The Chargers have won six straight games on the road, including wins over Seattle, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, so any thoughts of L.A. needing home field advantage are probably overblown. The problem for the Ravens is that Los Angeles might be the most complete team in the AFC, joining the Patriots and the Bears as the only teams in the playoffs who rank in the top ten in both points scored and points allowed. Philip Rivers is having a near-MVP type season and were it not for the fireworks in Kansas City, we’d probably be hearing more buzz about him. A career high in completion percentage of over 68% and over 30 TDs will do that. The health at running back has been a bit spotty, but it looks like Melvin Gordon is rounding back into form after three weeks off and tough outings against Baltimore and Denver. If he’s at 100% and can create some true balance for Rivers, there’s very little chance that Baltimore can hold the Chargers offense to ten points for a second time.

Prediction: The last game between these two felt a bit like a trap game after L.A.’s emotional one-point win over Kansas City the prior week. I doubt that the Chargers can be held to under twenty points a second time. So, the question becomes, can Baltimore stifle them somewhat and put up enough points to keep pace? I don’t think so. If Philip Rivers is ever going to make a postseason run, this must be the year.

Chargers 24, Ravens 17

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff previews here

Image Source: AP

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