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Ravens-Bills Preview: 3 Key Factors For The Ravens To Punch A Ticket To The AFC Championship Game

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This is gonna be a gutter war. Best game of the weekend in my humble opinion. Two young QB's taken in the 2018 draft going head to head to punch a ticket to the AFC Championship game. Each have had great success in their young careers, albeit by different paths. Josh Allen showed slow but steady progress before exploding in his 3rd year. Lamar's been a factor pretty much since the instant he became the starter in Baltimore. Both earned their first career playoff W's last week and that's what brings us here today.

I see this game as close to even as one I can remember. I was surprised to see the line around Bills -2.5 in a year where home field advantage has been proven to be virtually nonexistent. Sure, the Bills are hot but I can't sit here and say I was impressed by the way they played last week. Giving up 472 yards to a Philip Rivers led offense in 2020 is…. not great. Regardless they've won 7 straight and with the Ravens having won 6 straight something's gotta give. Here's what I see the game coming down to:

1. Do the Ravens have an answer for Stefon Diggs?

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First things first I love this man. In fact, I said on this very website before the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL draft that the Ravens needed to take him or they were going to regret it.

The past is the past though, and he's a problem we have to deal with tonight. With that said, you can make a strong case that with the likes of Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and a healthy Jimmy Smith, no team is better equipped to deal with a receiver duo like Diggs and Cole Beasley. I think the assumption for many is that All-Pro Marlo will be blanketing Diggs all night but I don't think that's necessarily the case. Marlon can play anywhere but he especially thrives in the slot where Cole Beasley lives. I think Wink Martindale sticks him there and puts the task up to Peters and Jimmy to cover Diggs with safety help over top if needed. Where this can get a bit dicey with Peters is that he's very well known for his aggressive play. Stef is such a route technician where he can easily be susceptible to double moves. It's an easily foreseeable situation that I pray doesn't come to fruition. We need to make sure there's somebody else in the neighborhood so that Diggs doesn't break a long one. If we can limit him to under 8 or so catches and 100 yards, I would consider that a big win.

2. Can The Ravens Build An Early Lead?

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This is one of those hot button issues with Lamar and the Ravens that I hate because it implies they are incapable of winning any other way. We saw them go down 10 points early last week and right the ship. But the Ravens are just so damn effective when they have the ball with a lead. It's more of a credit to what they're capable of in the ground game. I've seen them suffocate so many teams over the last two years and with the way the Bills defended the run last week (163 yards allowed to a team that was trailing nearly the entire game), they don't appear to be trending in the right direction. Josh Allen is obviously capable of leading his team down the field and putting points on the board, but that means nothing if the Bills are treading water against an offense shoving it right down their throats. 

It has to be noted the Bills did have some solid success slowing the Ravens on the ground (118 yards on 33 attempts) in Buffalo last December. They were the first team during the Ravens hot streak last year that I felt played with the type of discipline that it requires to do so. But the Bills run defense has fallen from league average last season to bottom 10 in the league and JK Dobbins wasn't part of that attack last season. I feel confident the Ravens will do their thing on the ground. So it's imperative that the Ravens have success on their early drives and put some points on the board so they can position themselves to do so.

3. Can The Ravens Blitz Josh Allen Effectively?

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Much has been made of Josh Allen's improvement this year, particularly his success against blitzes. Which is interesting because no team blitzes more than Wink Martindale's Baltimore Ravens. Last year the Ravens went up to Buffalo and made Josh Allen's life hell. Wink blitzed the everliving heck out of him to the tune of 6 sacks and another 5 QB knockdowns. The result was a 17/39 for 146 yards from Josh Allen. I came away from that game wondering if he even had what it took to be an NFL QB.

Credit to Josh Allen. I have a ton of appreciation for a guy who works hard and improves on his craft. It's been fun to watch this year and his success against blitzes is a huge part of that and now he's a problem. But I can assure you, Wink Martindale is not going to back down. The Ravens are going to attack with disguised looks at the line and do their best to confuse the young QB. This will be Josh Allen's biggest test of his career to date. The Ravens defense is as healthy as they've been all season and they showed what they were made of last week. Josh Allen is basically Ryan Tannehill on steroids. They share a similar skill set with strong arms and running ability, Allen is just… better. I'm excited to see how last week's success translates in Buffalo.

I really can't wait for this one. What a treat. We came into this year with expectations that the Ravens and Chiefs were shoo-ins to play in the AFC Championship game. Despite all the struggles and challenges the Ravens have faced this year, they are in position to make that a reality. The Bills have earned their right to be here and are a worthy foe, so it's time to see what each team is made of. What a treat.

Go everybody.