Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens: Matchups, prediction for Battle by the Bay

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers visit the ailing and slumping Baltimore Ravens with playoff positioning on the line.

The NFL has just seven active MVPs — but they seem to play each other once every couple of weeks this season. Sunday provides the possibility of yet another showdown of superstars: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers vs. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

That’s assuming Jackson’s injured ankle is well enough to play. If it is, it would be the only time either quarterback faces a fellow MVP. It’s also just the third time the Ravens have hosted the Packers, with the teams splitting the previous two meetings in Charm City. The Packers (10-3) enter Week 15 as the NFC’s No. 1 seed and have lost just twice in games in which Rodgers has started. The Ravens (8-5), meanwhile, are the fourth seed in the AFC but are on a two-game skid.

Green Bay Packers offense vs. Baltimore Ravens defense

The Packers are averaging 27.7 points in games that Rodgers hasn’t missed. They’ve scored 112 points in the last three weeks alone, dropping 45 on the Bears last Sunday. Clicking on all cylinders, Green Bay lit up Chicago for 439 yards and 27 first downs. On the year, the Packers rank first in giveaways (10), second in EPA (expected points added) per play (0.12), and 11th in both yards per play (5.8) and third downs (41.7%).

The Ravens’ defense has held up its end of the bargain for the last month and did so again in Baltimore’s Week 14 loss to the Browns. While the Browns scored 24 points, they did so on 290 yards and 4.8 per play. That’s excellent work. It wasn’t the defense’s fault that Tyler Huntley lost 2 fumbles, including one returned by Myles Garrett for a touchdown. Wink Martindale’s group has kept the Ravens in one-score games in all but one of the Ravens’ last five.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Ravens defense

Rodgers’ cracked toe gave him problems last week — and he still roasted the Bears for 341 yards. He also had 4 touchdown passes for the 33rd time in his Canton-worthy career. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in. He’s had more than two full seasons’ worth of 4+ touchdown games. Simply absurd.

Now back to this toe. Rodgers said it worsened last week and was painful to play on. But he told “The Pat McAfee Show” that: “It is what it is. It’s not going to be a problem, I don’t think. It’s not going to stop me from playing, it’s just pain management. I’m going to keep playing and not practice a whole lot unless there’s significant improvement.”

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Facing Rodgers will be a shock to the system for a Ravens defense that has only had to worry about the likes of Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Andy Dalton, a broken Baker Mayfield, and a diminished Ben Roethlisberger over the last six weeks.

Quarterbacks they’ve faced in the top echelon have largely lit them up, with Justin Herbert the lone exception. Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and Kirk Cousins have combined to average 9 yards per attempt with a rating of 106.7.

Advantage: Rodgers

Packers weapons vs. Ravens defensive backs

Wide receiver Davante Adams is on a heater. He’s gone over 100 yards in each of the last three games, with 4 touchdowns during that stretch. Adams, you might recall, is in the final year of his current deal and will probably sign the most lucrative contract for a wide receiver ever, assuming the Packers don’t simply franchise tag him.

Adams ranks third in the NFL in catches (90) and yards (1,204) and is fourth in targets (128). Meanwhile, the Packers have a new leading rusher: AJ Dillion (614), who overtook a still-mending Aaron Jones for the team lead in Week 14.

It’s gotten really ugly in the Ravens’ secondary. Four corners are now on injured reserve, with Marlon Humphrey this week joining fellow starter Marcus Peters. Making matters worse, Chris Westry and Chuck Clark are on the COVID list. That leaves the likes of Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young with the task of slowing down Rodgers and the Packers. Best of luck. Even with Peters in the lineup, the Ravens ranked 16th in yards per pass (6.8), 25th in interception rate (10.1%), and 26th in third-down defense (35.8%).

Advantage: Packers

Packers offensive line vs. Ravens defensive front

At some point, injuries are going to catch up to the Packers’ offensive line. Unless they don’t. Green Bay has already confounded conventional wisdom by thriving without David Bakhtiari, who has yet to play this year after tearing his ACL last season.

Right tackle Billy Turner was the latest to go down, suffering a knee injury of his own last week. Dennis Kelly replaced him. That left Green Bay with just one of its envisioned starting five: right guard Royce Newman. And yet, the Packers still averaged 6.9 yards per play and 5.0 yards per carry. Crazy.

One of the biggest mysteries of the Ravens’ season is how few game-changing plays they’ve gotten from their defense. Baltimore has forced the third-fewest turnovers (11) and recorded the 10th-fewest sacks (26). That’s as much a reflection on the front seven as the defensive backfield.

No Ravens player has more than 5.5 sacks or 9 tackles for loss. Baltimore does have the league’s No. 11 pass-rush win rate (44%) and four players with double-digit QB hits (led by Justin Houston’s 16). But getting close to making a play isn’t the same as making a play. Calais Campbell (thigh) is doubtful to play.

Advantage: Push

Baltimore Ravens offense vs. Green Bay Packers defense

We’ll get to the Jackson injury news in a moment. There’s enough to cover with Baltimore’s offense as a whole. It’s not good. At all.

In the Ravens’ last five games (which includes three losses), they’ve scored 83 points and have an EPA per play of -0.01, which ranks 23rd out of 32 teams. Jackson deserves plenty of the blame, but the run game has also played below its standard. During the five-game slump, they’ve averaged just 4.0 yards per carry — a full yard less than in their first eight games.

It’s a good thing Green Bay’s offense has been playing so well. The Packers have needed basically every point they’ve scored lately. The Packers have allowed 92 points in the last three weeks.

Yet, they’ve still been seventh in EPA per play during that stretch. That’s a bit of a head-scratcher, considering they blew two leads in the final three minutes of regulation against the Vikings. But a sizable chunk of the yards and points surrendered the last two weeks have been in garbage time.

Ravens quarterbacks vs. Packers defense

Jackson is not only struggling — he’s also hurt. He left the Ravens’ Week 14 loss to the Browns on a cart after spraining his ankle. But the sad truth is, there hasn’t been much functional difference as of late between Jackson and Huntley — and that’s not a compliment to Huntley.

Jackson is mired in the worst stretch of his career. He hasn’t had a passer rating of over 90 since Week 5 — and 90 isn’t particularly good. He’s been a below-average player on a below-average offense.

Some of Green Bay’s pass defense metrics are excellent. Others are ugly. The Packers are sixth in total defense (323.6), interception rate (3.1%) and yards per pass (6.2), seventh in scoring defense (20.9), eighth in yards per play (5.3) and passer rating defense (86.1), and ninth in first downs (19.6).

But they’re also the NFL’s fourth-worst red-zone defense (69.7%) and the league’s eighth-worst third-down defense (43.2%). Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Justin Fields combined to average 8.2 yards per pass, throw 8 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, and put together a cumulative passer rating of 99.1 against Green Bay over the last three weeks.

Advantage: Packers

Ravens weapons vs. Packers defensive backs

Tight end Mark Andrews has never gone over 1,000 yards in a season, but he can do so in just the 14th game of the 2021 season. He’s become the passing game’s No. 1 option, with 2 more targets than Marquise Brown.

Both Andrews and Brown average a shade of 12 yards per catch, and each has 6 touchdown catches. Unfortunately for the Ravens, they’re the only two skill position players on which they can rely to show up. Jackson accounts for 41% of the team’s rushing yards, but with his injury situation, the Ravens are going to need more from Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray.

Rasul Douglas has been an incredible find for the Packers. Since Green Bay plucked him off the Cardinals’ practice squad on Oct. 6, he’s started five games, had 3 interceptions — including 2 returned for touchdowns — broken up 10 passes, and forced a fumble. Douglas has allowed just 48.8% of his passes to be completed for 6.4 yards per target and a passer rating of 48.3.

If the Packers can ever get Douglas, Jaire Alexander (IR/shoulder), and Eric Stokes on the field at the same time, they’re going to have one of the best defenses in football.

Advantage: Push

Ravens offensive line vs. Packers defensive front

The advanced stats suggest the Ravens should be running the ball better than they are. Baltimore’s run-block win rate (73%) is terrific. They also have more than held their own in pass pro, with their win rate in that category ranking in the top 10. But again, all of those numbers are a bit misleading. Football Outsiders has the Ravens 29th in adjusted line yards (3.75) and 31st in adjusted sack rate (9.0%).

Like they are with Alexander, the Packers are hopeful to have Za’Darius Smith back on the field before the end of the regular season. That would be a huge lift. He’s barely played this year due to a back injury that needed surgery. But if he can get healthy in time for the playoff run, it’ll be a game-changer.

Right now, their pass rush has largely come from Preston Smith (7 sacks, 13 quarterback hits), Rashan Gary (6.5 and 21), and Kenny Clark (4.0 and 13). A couple of quick stats on the Packers’ front seven: Green Bay ranks 23rd in yards per carry (4.5) and is tied for 15th in sack rate (6.6%).

Advantage: Packers

Betting line and game prediction

  • Spread: Packers -7 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Packers -305, Ravens +240
  • Total: 43.5

Packers vs. Ravens Prediction: Packers 30, Ravens 17

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