In a shocking turn of events, the NFL Divisional round will not be seeing one of the playoff match-up staples: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens.
Instead, the viewing audience watched the fall of Colossus as New England fell to the up-and-coming Tennessee Titans. Now, in a battle of the ground game, who will out rush the other for a chance at the AFC Championship?
Tennessee started their playoff run in spectacular fashion. Despite only passing the ball 16 times, they would knock out the defending champion New England Patriots in a 20-13 game. Though the weight of the world fell onto the shoulders of halfback Derrick Henry, he showed that he was Atlas in a game against mortals, rushing for 182 yards and receiving for another 22.
Baltimore starts their run towards their third Super Bowl lead by an explosive offense that saw them lead the NFL in points per game and rushing yards. However, as usual, their specialty has been the defense, finishing in the top ten in every category. Simply put, they’re the team to beat in the AFC this year.
Keys To The Game:
If Tennessee is going to have any chance of survival, they have to limit mistakes to zero. Baltimore is fifth against the run and sixth against the pass on defense. Baltimore is a dangerous enough team that each turnover can easily became a dagger in hearts of those in Nashville. There’s very little room for error in this game.
Baltimore has a major task at hand: not overlooking Derrick Henry. This may sound like a simple task but in a few instances against top running backs like Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, they’ve allowed big numbers. It may be seldom it happens but all it takes is one game to completely throw a team off.
The Titans’ x-factor is their whole linebacking corps. How do you stop a top rushing team? You contain them, plain and simple.
While defensive ends Jurrell Casey and Jeffrey Simmons are capable enough to disrupt the pocket, the fact that quarterback Lamar Jackson can easily move about the backfield will place a lot of responsibility on this group. They have the talent to do so but it will come down to their execution to see if this defense is for real.
For Baltimore, the x-factor is cornerback Marcus Peters. He lead the team in interceptions with three, two of which resulted in touchdowns. He also had a Pro Football Focus score of 83.2, which ranked him fourth amongst all cornerbacks who played 300 snaps minimum.
He has the ability and intelligence to trick quarterback Ryan Tannehill into making mistakes. The second he does, it will be game over.
Tennessee shocked the world, defeating the New England Patriots in the Wild Card round in a hostile environment like Foxboro. However, Baltimore is a much different and much harder challenge than New England. Barring defensive perfection from the Titans, Baltimore should be able to roll. Tennessee is almost there, they just need another season or two of fine tuning. Baltimore Ravens defeat the Tennessee Titans, 36 to 17.