It was December 8, 2019 when the Buffalo Bills met the Baltimore Ravens in Orchard Park. The 9-3 Bills were riding a three-game winning streak capped off with a 26-15 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. The 10-2 Ravens were winners of eight straight games, having just outlasted the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
Baltimore left New Era Field that day with a 24-17 victory. They would not lose another regular season game, although they exited the playoffs in their first game when they lost to the Tennessee Titans. Buffalo would win only one more game that season, a 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, on their way to a first-round playoff exit of their own.
In 2020, these teams face off in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and while the records may be reversed a bit, the game is in no way a mismatch. Buffalo has collected 14 wins this season and Baltimore has 12 of their own. The Bills finished the regular season with 13 wins and added a victory over the Indianapolis Colts last week, while Baltimore finished the regular season with 11 wins before avenging their 2019 playoff loss to Tennessee last week.
In order for Buffalo to advance to the AFC Championship Game, they’ll need to limit the success of these five Ravens.
QB Lamar Jackson
Duh. If the Bills are going to win, they’re going to need to keep Jackson from making electric splash plays with both his arm and his legs. The book is out there—make Jackson beat you by sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball outside the numbers. It seems easy when you write it out that way...but then you watch Jackson play and it’s clear why that task is no simple feat. Jackson was the 2019 NFL MVP for a reason. Buffalo’s defense is going to have to maintain discipline in its assignments of all varieties—coverage, gaps, eyes, all of it—in order to make sure that Jackson is contained. That means setting the edges, staying in your gap as a defensive tackle, and crashing to the ball at the back levels. The Bills held Jackson to only 185 total yards, by far his lowest total in his MVP season. Buffalo will need a similar defensive performance on Saturday night.
RB J.K. Dobbins
The rookie doesn’t lead the Ravens in rushing—that honor goes to his quarterback—but Dobbins does lead the team in rushing touchdowns with nine on the season. He averaged six yards per carry on the season, totaling 805 yards on just 134 attempts. Last week, Dobbins ran nine times for 43 yards and a touchdown. It was the first game since Week Ten that Dobbins had fewer than eleven carries and 53 yards. He’s scored a touchdown in seven consecutive games, as well. While Gus Edwards is a fearsome bruiser, Dobbins is a real threat.
TE Mark Andrews
Buffalo allowed three passing touchdowns to Jackson in their meeting last year. Two of them went to tight ends. And while neither touchdown pass went to Andrews, he is the clear top dog in the passing game. Teams have worked hard to shut him out this year, and as a result, Jackson began targeting Marquise “Hollywood” Brown more frequently. This season, Brown actually led the Ravens in targets with 100. After watching Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, and Mo Alie-Cox combine for 14 catches, 136 yards, and one touchdown, Andrews has to be excited for this matchup. Buffalo has struggled to cover tight ends all year, and the Ravens will probably look to do what the Colts did by isolating their tight ends on Buffalo’s smaller corners. The Bills could try to use Tre’Davious White on Andrews, leaving Brown to be covered by a bracket involving either Josh Norman or Levi Wallace in conjunction with a safety. The Bills could also use a combination of Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Matt Milano to handle Andrews. Whatever they decide to do, keeping Baltimore’s tight end group under control is vital to success.
EDGE Matthew Judon
Even after adding studs like Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, it’s Judon who led the Ravens in sacks (6), quarterback hits (21), and tackles for loss (9). Judon’s strip-sack of Josh Allen in last year’s meeting set Baltimore up with a short field for a touchdown, which was a common theme in that game: of Baltimore’s four scoring drives, two went for less than thirty yards, one went for 51 yards after a bad punt, and another went 75 yards, although nearly all of that came on the busted-coverage 61-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst in the third quarter. Judon is long, rangy, and athletic, and he’ll be a problem for the Bills’ offensive line. Last year, the Ravens were able to blitz Allen into oblivion, making him tremendously uncomfortable in the pocket and sacking him six times. Judon had five tackles, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss in that contest. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some Lee Smith snaps to help out in pass protection this week, with the burly tight end also helping to clear some running lanes for Devin Singletary. Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams both have had excellent years, and they’ll be put to the test this week.
CB Marlon Humphrey
Last year, the Bills had John Brown and Cole Beasley to contend with in the receiving corps. This year, add Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis to that grouping. That foursome stresses any defense out, but with a secondary as deep as Baltimore’s, the Bills’ strength actually meets another team’s area of strength, as well. Humphrey will probably match up with Diggs often, and if defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is to be believed, the Ravens will continue to play man and blitz often. That means that whomever ends up on Diggs is going to need to be perfect, as the NFL’s leading receiver was absolutely deadly against man coverage this year. If Humphrey can shut Diggs down, then the Bills will have to look elsewhere, and that’s not what the team wants. This matchup is one of the biggest keys of the whole game.