Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens travel to Buffalo to face Josh Allen and the Bills. Ben Steele expects a shootout between two dual-threat quarterbacks...
"With the weather forecast predicting a potential snowstorm, that could make passing the ball difficult at times, and two quarterbacks who have combined for 17 rushing touchdowns between them this term, we may not see the most conventional quarterback play on Saturday night."
Allen & Jackson can dazzle again
The 2018 NFL Draft was touted as having one of the deepest quarterback groups in a generation and ended with five QBs taken in the first round. Three years later we see the first playoff match between any of the group as Josh Allen (7th Overall pick) and Lamar Jackson (32nd) in a game between arguably two of the most entertaining players in the league.
Allen is coming off easily the best year of his Buffalo Bills tenure, setting career highs in completions, passing yards, completion percentage, touchdown passes and quarterback rating as he proved himself easily the best quarterback in the AFC East. Impressively, Allen's improvement as a passer didn't hurt his ability as a runner and he still managed to score eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season.
The Bills signal caller followed up an excellent year, that would probably have garnered some MVP votes were it not for the efforts of Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, with a match-winning performance against the Indianapolis Colts. Allen accounted for all three of Buffalo's touchdowns, throwing two and running in for another, as the Bills earned their first playoff win since 1995.
Unfortunately for Allen, his opposite number comes in to this weekend's game with a similar spring in his step.
Lamar Jackson travels to Buffalo having got a pretty big monkey off his back. The last two seasons have ended with the Ravens losing in the first round of the playoffs and question marks over whether Jackson has the ability to show up in big games.
Last week, after a shaky start, Jackson was at his electric best, turning the game on its head with a touchdown run and orchestrating an offence that kept the Tennessee Titans offensive juggernaut sitting on the sidelines for large portions of the game. After the first playoff win of his career Jackson will be looking for more of the same and that, no doubt, will involve a lot of running the ball.
While Allen is a talented runner most of his attempts come either close to the goal line, like last week's touchdown run, or out of necessity when a pass play breaks down Jackson is an entirely different problem. Already being touted as the best dual-threat QB the league has ever seen, Jackson's game relies on the threat he carries as a runner, and Baltimore's gameplan is built around that, with short passing routes and a variety of Run/Pass Option plays (RPO).
The Ravens will look for Jackson to repeat his heroics if the Ravens are going to cause an upset.
With the weather forecast predicting a potential snowstorm, that could make passing the ball difficult at times and two quarterbacks who have combined for 17 rushing touchdowns between them this term, we may not see the most conventional quarterback play on Saturday night. I'll be sure to back an #OddsBoost of Lamar Jackson & Josh Allen to both score a touchdown anytime in a game that could prove to be a classic.
Diggs still offers value despite lack of yards
A huge factor in Josh Allen's jump in production in 2020 was the instant chemistry he formed with wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who himself had a career best season. The 27-year-old, who actually went to college less than an hour away from Baltimore, led the league in catches (127) and receiving yards (1,535) while adding eight touchdowns for good measure.
Just as in the regular season, Allen and Diggs combined well last week with Buffalo's top receiver ending the game adding six catches, 128 yards and a score to a playoff resume that already includes scoring on the play known as "The Minneapolis Miracle." The Colts have one of the best overall defences in the NFL but its arguable that this week will be an even tougher challenge for Diggs.
Last week Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey struggled early, bullied by Titans WR A.J. Brown on a first quarter touchdown drive that looked like it was about to set the tone but it was in fact the opposite. Humphrey, who routinely lines up against the best receiver on the opposing team, held Brown to two catches for 28 yards the rest of the game as the Ravens secondary stood up to a highly touted Titans passing game.
Diggs and Brown are the same height and play the same position but the similarities stop there. Brown is a full 16kg heavier and that, unsurprisingly, lends itself to a more physical style of play. Humphrey should find it a little easier to cope with Diggs and while he may still have some joy I'd expect him to be held under receiving 93.5 yards in the game. But the fact that Diggs will be Humphrey's primary focus on Saturday night bodes well for his teammate Cole Beasley.
Despite battling a knee injury all week in practice, Beasley's seven catches were the most by any Bills player and, with Diggs potentially covered by one of the NFL's better corners, the former Dallas Cowboy will play a huge role for Buffalo again this week. Diggs and Beasley accounted for roughly half of Allen's completed passes this season, showing the 25-year-old's reliance on the pair, but they play very different roles.
While Diggs stretches the field and is a threat to score from anywhere his teammate is the safety blanket, always available and keeping the ball moving. A total of 65% of Beasley's catches in 2020 resulted in a first down and, with field position crucial on Saturday night, the role becomes all the more important.
Baltimore's second cornerback Marcus Peters is no slouch, but his tendency to try and goad the opposition into throwing his way gives him very little margin for error and that is something Allen will be keen to exploit. Look for Beasley to have over 45.5 receiving yards as Buffalo take on the Peters challenge.
Rookie runner can score again
A big part of the Ravens' strong end to the season has been the emergence of rookie running back J.K. Dobbins who has effectively replaced Mark Ingram as the lead back. Dobbins splits carries with Gus Edwards, and obviously Jackson eats in to his carries as well, but the rookie has been surprisingly effective when he does have the ball, averaging six yards per carry. His ability to score makes him a real worry for opposing defences.
Dobbins has scored eight touchdowns in his last seven games, finding the endzone every week since a Week 11 loss to Tennessee. He has benefited immensely from a strong offensive line and an opposition concerned about Jackson. The Ravens averaged almost 200 rushing yards per game and that bodes well against a Buffalo defence whose weakness is against the run. Only six teams gave up more yards per carry in 2020.
Where the Ravens struggle against the run, the Bills defence are one of the best at stopping the pass, top 10 in multiple categories, which means Ravens coach John Harbaugh will likely stick with what he knows and run the ball with regularity.
In a game that is likely to go down to the wire, potentially even to overtime, it's highly likely that both teams will try to stick with their biggest strength and at 11/10 Dobbins is a good price to score his 10th touchdown as he continues to build on an impressive rookie season.
Ben Steele NFL P/L:
Staked: 66 points
Returned: 80.5 points
P/L: +14.5 points