This is what NFL playoff football is all about, folks. Lamar Jackson. Derrick Henry. Two of the league’s most explosive, unpredictable offenses, and storylines galore. Do the Tennessee Titans have another deep playoff run up their sleeves? Has Jackson overcome his midseason slump? Can he finally win a playoff game? Do the Titans have the Baltimore Ravens’ number after last year’s playoff upset and their 30-24 overtime win in Week 11? Does Tennessee even play defense anymore? NFL Recap is certain that this game will be something special. In this 2020-2021 NFL playoff preview between the Titans and the Ravens, we have a hunch that Baltimore may just be able to pull off an upset.
This Wild Card game will be on Sunday, January 10 at 1:05 PM ET on ABC and ESPN.
Ravens/Titans Playoff Preview: Ravens seek revenge
Tennessee Titans’ season in a nutshell
Derrick Henry smashed puny humans. Ryan Tannehill proved that his late-season surge in 2019 was no fluke. A balanced receiving corps led by A.J. Brown and Corey Davis made it impossible to key any one of the team’s weapons. Meanwhile, the Titans defense hoped opponents would be intimidated by head coach Mike Vrabel’s tough-guy reputation and not notice how weak it was, while the special teams let them down several times in the middle of the season.
Baltimore Ravens’ season in a nutshell
The Ravens were 5-1 and in cruise control when everything came unglued in November. Lamar Jackson endured a wicked midseason slump where the NFL appeared to catch up with him as a passer and a runner. An outbreak punctuated a three-game losing streak by forcing Robert Griffin to lead a team of backups in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackson and the Ravens, however, stabilized in December, with an assist from an easy late-season schedule. They have won their last three games by a combined score of 80-30.
Playoff Preview: Baltimore Ravens’ greatest strength
Despite their midseason offensive swoon, the Ravens still led the NFL entering Week 17 with 177.8 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per rush. The emergence of J.K. Dobbins has helped the Ravens rush for over 200 yards four times in their final five games, including (holy moly) 404 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale.
Playoff Preview: Tennessee Titans’ greatest strength
It’s all about the Henry/Tannehill balance. Per Football Outsiders, the Titans offense entered Week 17 ranked third in the NFL in rushing, fourth in passing, sixth on first down, fifth on second down, fourth on third and fourth downs, fifth in the red zone, and second in goal-to-goal situations. It’s hard to stop an offense that is very good in just about every situation.
Tennessee Titans’ biggest weakness
The Titans recorded just 14 sacks entering Week 17 and ranked 28th in the NFL with just 189 pass pressures. All of their other defensive problems start with an inability to rush the quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens’ biggest weakness
Yes, Jackson really does struggle when throwing toward the sidelines. Here are his numbers entering Week 17 on passes marked “left” or “right” and 10-plus air yards (to take away swing passes and screens) in the Sports Info Solutions database: 18-of-46, 385 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 78.6 rating that ranks 27th among NFL starters.
The most troubling thing about Jackson’s sideline passing figures is the low number of attempts. Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted 48 downfield sideline passes entering Week 17, though he was benched (sort of) weeks ago. Dak Prescott attempted 40 of them, and you probably forgot that he even played this year. Jackson’s downfield sideline passing became such an issue that the Ravens gave up trying for much of the year, though he appears to have improved a bit since returning from quarantine.
The Titans have a better offense than the Ravens. They have better balance, better weapons, fewer weaknesses, less of a dependence on options, and play action to set up everything else. The Ravens, however, have a far superior defense, and the league’s best special teams, including Justin Tucker, who may be the best kicker ever.
Yes, Jackson has come up short in playoff games in 2018 and 2019. Yes, the Ravens play poorly from behind. But the Titans just gave up 38 points to a Houston Texans team with nothing to play for but pride. The Ravens could drop 45 on them if Jackson plays the way he did in December instead of the way he played in Week 11. If that happens, all the stiff-arms in the world won’t save the Titans.
Early Pick: Baltimore Ravens
(All stats via Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise cited)