Los Angeles Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens: Prediction, matchups when MVP candidates collide

MVP candidates square off in Sunday's marquee Los Angeles Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens matchup. Who has the edge in this pivotal showdown?

The NFL world will be watching as two burgeoning stars take the field for their respective teams. The Baltimore Ravens host the Los Angeles Chargers in a marquee matchup between MVP candidates and AFC powers.

Justin Herbert heads into Baltimore for the first time in his career while Lamar Jackson will look to keep his offense rolling.

Los Angeles Chargers offense vs. Baltimore Ravens defense

The Chargers’ offense is led by Herbert, the reigning NFL Rookie of the Year. Herbert has been terrific in 2021, leading LA to a 4-1 record with only a close loss to Dallas this year. Herbert has thrown for the fourth-most yards in the league, leading his counterpart in this matchup by just 57.

Justin Herbert vs. Ravens defense

The Ravens’ defense will have to be up for the task of stopping Herbert, something few have done since the Oregon product stepped into the NFL in 2020. Herbert has thrown at least 3 touchdowns in three straight games and has thrown for more than 280 yards in all but one contest this season. Playing maybe the best three-game stretch of football in his short career, Herbert hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 2.

Herbert is dotting the field beautifully and finding his talented receiving duo in space. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams each have 30+ receptions this season, while Williams has enjoyed a breakout campaign. Herbert has found all levels of the field with great success but has been dominant throwing outside the hashes.

The Ravens will attempt to limit Herbert despite ranking 30th in total passing yards allowed per game. Baltimore is giving up 296.4 yards per game through the air despite being largely healthy as a unit. They can get after the quarterback, but pressure hasn’t really affected Herbert this season, so the Ravens’ biggest strength is essentially nullified by Herbert’s play.

Advantage: Chargers

Chargers skill players vs. Ravens secondary

In his aforementioned breakout season, Williams has 471 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns, the latter leading the league. Both Allen and Williams rank in the top 10 among pass catchers in total first-down receptions as well.

Tight end Jared Cook has added value over the middle just as running back Austin Ekeler has out of the backfield. All told, each receiver has hauled in a touchdown and more than 190 yards this season. Ekeler leads the charge with 184 yards after the catch as he averages a depth of target just shy of a half-yard past the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens’ secondary has looked good at times but certainly lacks the starpower of the days of old. Marlon Humphrey has once again been solid, allowing 57.6% of the throws his way to be caught. Anthony Averett leads the way with 2 of Baltimore’s 3 interceptions this season.

The biggest issue for the Ravens’ defense against the Chargers’ skill players will absolutely be the play of linebacker Patrick Queen in coverage in the short and underneath areas. Queen has been solid but unspectacular at times this year. He’ll have to be spectacular to stop Ekeler and Cook.

Advantage: Chargers

Chargers offensive line vs. Ravens defensive line

There may be two future Hall of Fame players on this Baltimore line, but a rookie has stolen the show. Odafe Oweh has been terrific in his first NFL season. He’s recorded 3 sacks and has 2 forced fumbles to boot. He clinched the game against Kansas City earlier this season when he stripped Patrick Mahomes and recovered the fumble himself.

Justin Houston and Calais Campbell have largely been kept quiet but have proven to be game-wreckers in their time. They rank fourth and seventh, respectively, on the active all-time sacks list. In 13 career games against the Chargers, Houston has 8.5 sacks, including 1 in each of his last two games against Los Angeles. In four games against LA, Campbell has recorded just 1 sack, but that came in their most recent meeting.

A pain point over the years for LA, their offensive line has been nothing of the sort this season. Rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater has adapted to the NFL extremely quickly and is enjoying a terrific season to date. LG Matt Feiler, RG Oday Aboushi, and RT Storm Norton have largely been impressive, but center Corey Linsley still ranks among the league’s best. As a unit, this team is solid and doesn’t give up much pressure, nor are they meek in the run game.

A few years ago, Campbell and Houston going up against a Chargers offensive line would be a huge mismatch. As they’ve gotten longer in the tooth, that advantage has actually shifted directions.

Advantage: Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers defense vs. Baltimore Ravens offense

The Ravens are obviously led by a former MVP in Jackson, who’s once again playing at an MVP level. As defenses struggle to figure him out, he keeps racking up yards and highlight-reel plays. The Chargers have a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player in their own right, however. When healthy, Derwin James is a player who can take over any game.

Lamar Jackson vs. Chargers defense

Jackson is fresh off a dominant performance against Indianapolis this past Monday night. He completed passes at will in a dramatic overtime victory. All told, he finished 37-of-43 for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns. He set a career-high in passing yards and proved he can take care of the ball despite a high volume of attempts. Jackson has thrown for 1,519 yards, ranking fifth in the NFL this season.

The Chargers are led by a trio of young defensive stars: Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and Asante Samuel Jr. Despite being the youngest of the trio, Samuel has already lived up to his name. The Florida State duo (James, Samuel Jr.) has recorded 3 interceptions and knocked down 7 passes. James leads the team with 42 total tackles, while Bosa is first with 2.5 sacks and a dozen more pressures.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Jackson’s ability to buy time in the pocket and scramble if needed mitigates Bosa’s potential impact on the game. James can spy Jackson, which would become must-watch television, but that may not be in the plans for LA after Jackson’s dominance in the passing game last weekend.

Jackson himself is better than most of the league’s quarterbacks, but can he be better than the star-studded trio that LA fields? I’ll never be one to doubt Jackson.

Advantage: Ravens

Ravens weapons vs. Chargers secondary

The Ravens will have the services of rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman against Los Angeles but will be without Sammy Watkins. Marquise Brown has returned to form after dropping multiple touchdowns early this season and leads the team with 5 receiving scores. TE Mark Andrews is first on the team with 29 receptions and hauled in a pair of TDs and 2-point conversions on Monday Night Football.

Facing Brown, Andrews, and now Bateman, the Chargers’ secondary will absolutely be tested. Samuel has proven to be up to the challenge, and James can cover anyone from tight ends to running backs and even outside receivers. What Baltimore lacks in receiving options, the Chargers have in spades in terms of coverage defenders.

Former safety Drue Tranquill has been solid in pass coverage, as has Nasir Adderley in the back end. Another former safety — Kyzir White — is also providing plus play in coverage at linebacker. In total, the Chargers have the chance to stop the Baltimore passing attack and should be able to key on Jackson.

Advantage: Chargers

Ravens offensive line vs. Chargers front seven

The Chargers have nearly been a one-man show in terms of pass rushing. Bosa leads the way in pressures, sacks, hits, and hurries. He’s playing at an All-Pro level early on this season, but aside from him, LA generated much of a pass rush. Uchenna Nwosu and Jerry Tillery are next in line in total pressures, but neither has recorded half of what Bosa has done.

Although Baltimore’s offensive line was their Achilles heel to start the season, the front five has responded well in recent weeks. Alejandro Villanueva’s switch to left tackle following Ronnie Staley’s injury has proved beneficial. Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler, and Patrick Mekari are beginning to gel as a unit.

Sure, they’re bailed out by Jackson at times, but they’ve more than proven to be able to help Baltimore gain yards and win games.

Advantage: Ravens

Betting line and game prediction

The Ravens are getting the benefit of the doubt of a home game and enter as a 2.5-point favorite. Baltimore may have the superior athlete at quarterback, but for the sum of all their parts, the Chargers are the better team. They’ll have to do everything they can to stop Jackson, but with their trio of stars on defense, they seem fit to do so.

Prediction: Chargers 35, Ravens 31

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of NFL News/Analysis for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor

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