In what projects to be the best matchup of the weekend between two teams filled with generational players, the Baltimore Ravens head to the unfriendly confines of Orchard Park, N.Y., to face the Buffalo Bills in one of the AFC Divisional Playoff contests this weekend.
Pitting two stud QBs against each other in Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson will have eyes glued to TV sets all across the world, while each defense will have their hands full containing all of the offensive firepower that is likely to be on full display in this contest. But for the Bills, this game means much, much more to them than it does for the Ravens.
Having finally hosted a postseason game for the first time in what felt like 50 years, the Bills were able to hang on in a tough battle against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Wild Card Weekend, with Allen helping lead his offense to the promised land on multiple occasions, while the defense stood up when they needed to the most.
But the Ravens are built quite differently than what the Colts are, as their offense relies heavily on a run-first attack that is orchestrated by Jackson – his lack of passing acumen can certainly be on full display and is the exact box that the Bills defense needs to corner him in if they want to force the Ravens out of their comfort zone on offense.
Here are four bold predictions for the Bills as they try to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Josh Allen uses his legs to lead the Bills’ offense
On the season, Allen’s rushing usage took a slight dip in carries and yardage compared to last season for the Bills, as he only converted 102 carries for 421 yards, a seven-carry decrease and an 89-yard decrease.
A downtick in rushing usage by Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has helped keep Allen focused on his passing work back in the pocket, and it has also kept Allen back in the pocket instead of immediately looking to dip out when his first read is not open or he begins to feel some slight pressure. But a huge reason that Allen has been able to see an improvement in the offense as a whole even with him running less is due to his duo of running backs at his side, Zack Moss and Devin Singletary.
Unfortunately, Moss was placed on the IR, ending his season for the Bills after suffering an ankle injury against the Colts, which means that Singletary will be backed up by T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones, undrafted rookie Antonio Williams, and newly-signed Devonta Freeman. None of those names scare any defense (outside of Singletary), so the onus to establish the run falls more on Allen now.
Having set season-high marks in carries and yardage back in Week 7 against the New York Jets (11 carries for 61 yards), Allen should sniff double-digit carries yet again to help give Singletary some rest for the Bills.
Stefon Diggs puts on a route-running clinic vs Marcus Peters
Ever since Stefon Diggs was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings this past offseason, he and Allen have been setting the league on fire for the Bills, producing one of the most efficient and explosive QB-WR hookups this league has seen for quite a while. And while defenses certainly have been game planning to take Diggs out of the offensive attack, it simply is not that easy.
Against the Colts, Diggs hauled in six passes for 128 yards and a score for the Bills, but that certainly was not against the upper-class CB that Marcus Peters is. Yet all it is going to take is a few quick line of scrimmage moves and Diggs will be off to the races, leaving Peters in his dust.
While Peters did haul in the game-clinching interception of Ryan Tannehill last week for Baltimore, he will be tasked with a much tougher matchup this week, needing to handle both the size and physicality of Diggs on a play-by-play basis. Even with Cole Beasley entering the game with no injury designation, he will not be at full health for the Bills, meaning that Diggs will be looked to early and often by Allen, so a double-digit target game certainly looks to be in the cards.
Gabriel Davis sets career highs, continues hot streak
The UCF rookie set his career-high in receptions back against the Titans in Week 5 with 5 catches, and his career-best mark in yardage came in Week 17 against the Dolphins in that crazy blowout for the Bills, as he put up 107 yards and a score.
But Davis is set for a great game on a big stage for the Bills, as he is in a great spot to help take some production away from Diggs in case the extra focus he earns takes him out of a few crucial situations.
Can the Bills rookie be counted on to show up in the biggest game of his young career so far? Think it’s safe to say he’s done what he’s can so far and there’s no sign of that changing this week. While a double-digit game like what Diggs is projected to earn may not be right for Davis, but certainly putting up a 100+ yardage day seems likely, especially when considering Beasley’s health and how John Brown is still getting himself back into 100% playing shape.
A six-catch, 120-yard day for Davis, potentially with a TD sprinkled in, would do a ton for the Bills and Allen.
Bills’ defense gets torched on the ground in its attempt to stop Lamar Jackson
When trying to keep Jackson boxed up for four quarters, there normally are other elements of the Baltimore offense that are given good chances to perform, like J.K. Dobbins on the ground or either Marquise Brown or Mark Andrews through the air.
The Bills get the tough task of needing to box all three of those players up on Saturday, with Jackson being the biggest of their worries, simply based on what he can do with his legs. And on the year, Buffalo has been not the greatest at stopping the run, something that does not bode well for their chances.
Having allowed 1,914 yards on the ground, the Bills allowed the sixth-most rushing scores with 21 coming against them and tied for the sixth-highest yards per carry with 4.6, numbers that certainly will not cut it against the league’s best rushing team.
Having outrushed the second-highest team (Titans) by 381 yards, the Ravens certainly do not surprise any of their opponents with what they are going to do on offense – they are going to run the ball down your throat and continue to do that until you show any sort of semblance that you may be able to slight stop it. Even then, a hard-sold, play-action play will be enough to put the Bills’ defense back on its heels as well, making this Ravens offense, even as inconsistent as it can be, unstoppable when all the parts are moving together.
Could we see dual 100-yard performances by Jackson and Dobbins against the Bills? Certainly, but it would be more likely to see Jackson eclipse the century mark by himself and have the rest of the backfield (Dobbins, Gus Edwards, etc.) combine for over 100 yards, due to how that offense loves to interchange its guys and its usage of read-options and motion.
The Bills will need to count on their high-powered offense in this contest, because its defense, especially against the run, is going to have its hands full early and often against a Baltimore team that looks to have finally found its offensive identity again.