Over the next month, I’ll take a look at the top Ravens games of 2016, why they figure to be so significant, and what the outcome is likely to be. My rankings are based upon rivalry, probable playoff implications (with an emphasis on divisional games), and national television audiences.
Check out what we’ve written so far:
No. 9: Week 7 at New York (Jets)
All-time record against: 8-1
Most recent game: Ravens 19, Jets 3 (November 24, 2013)
Significance: While Baltimore has beaten New York eight straight times, three of the four games they’ve played in New York have resulted in a final margin of three points or less. Further, this will be the last game before Baltimore’s bye week. While history and a week off won’t be publicly claimed as distractions, the distractions will likely persist, nonetheless.
New York is a team without a firm grip on whom its quarterback is going to be. Usually, you’d say that’s a problem; however, they have plenty of other offensive threats to rely on.
Last year, the Jets were one of two teams in the entire league (along with the Jaguars) to have two receivers gain at least 1,000 yards and score at least 10 touchdowns each. In 2015, Brandon Marshall (109 receptions, 1,502 yards, 14 TD) had the best year of his career while Eric Decker (80 receptions, 1,027 yards, 12 TD) lit it up as well.
New York lost the services of fierce running back Chris Ivory to Jacksonville (via free agency), but filled that void by signing all-around threat Matt Forte (8th in yards from scrimmage among active players; 49th all-time). When I say they filled the void, they did so quite literally. In 2015, both Ivory and Forte gained the exact same amount of total yards (1,287).
We know about how Baltimore brought in safety Eric Weddle and veteran coach Leslie Frazier to straighten out its secondary, and those men will have their hands full on October 23. But stopping the ground game will be an even tougher assignment. It was an even more effective weapon (10th in rushing yards) than the air attack last season (13th in passing yards).
In what could be poor weather conditions, this figures to be a classic game of football, with the winner being determined by desire.
Key match-ups: Jimmy Smith vs. Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith, Sr. vs. Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Williams vs. Nick Mangold
Three match-ups in the game jump out at me. Jimmy Smith versus Brandon Marshall will be the biggest match-up of them all.
In four career games against Baltimore, Marshall (6’4″, 230 pounds) has caught 13 of his 26 targets for a total of 96 yards (7.38 yard average). Smith’s (6’2″, 206 pounds) only game against Marshall was when Baltimore played at Chicago in 2013. Marshall caught four passes for 42 yards that day. Baltimore lost 23-20, but Smith and Pees can be proud of holding Marshall to that little of an output. If Smith can hold Marshall’s production similarly this season, the Ravens will be elated.
Both of those men are as tough and as skilled as any at their position. In Week 7, these two future Hall of Famers will face-off once again.
In January 2015, when the Ravens played the Patriots in a divisional playoff game, Smith Sr. caught three passes for 44 yards and one touchdown. Revis registered one tackle and zero passes defensed. This time around, expect a similar outcome.
The third match-up I’m really looking forward to seeing is Jets center Nick Mangold against Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams.
We know the Jets like to sustain their offense on the ground, behind two-time First-Team All-Pro Mangold. The veteran center has played three times as many years as Williams, but Williams is as stout an interior defensive lineman as there is in this league. Last season, Williams started every game and set career-highs in tackles (35), sacks (2.0), and passes defensed (2). This year, he could easily double those totals.
Additionally, Williams’ 2016 cap number is $813,750 (according to RSR’s Brian McFarland). If he continues to play the way he’s been playing, his next contract could yield him a yearly wage north of $10 million. He knows that, and in games like this one (in New York against an All-Pro), he’s going to put forth his best possible performance.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Jets 17