In a rematch of a game played just two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Chargers will play the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild-Card round of the AFC playoffs. Game time is scheduled for 1:05 EST on Sunday, January 6, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The game can be seen nationally on CBS.
Oddsmakers list the Ravens as 2.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 42 points. Be sure to check out all of this weekend’s NFL playoff betting odds.
The Ravens have essentially been playing playoff games the entire second half of the season. A three-game losing streak in the middle of the season dropped Baltimore to 4-5, putting them on the outside of the playoff picture. However, after Lamar Jackson replaced the injured Joe Flacco at quarterback, the Ravens won six of their last seven games to finish 10-6.
Not only did Baltimore earn a playoff spot, but they also overtook the Steelers to win the AFC North for the first time since the 2012 season when they won the Super Bowl. John Harbaugh and company also put a stop to a three-year playoff hiatus. Despite not reaching the playoffs in a few years, Harbaugh owns a 10-5 postseason record and has won at least one game every year he’s been to the playoffs.
As for the Chargers, they are in the unfortunate position of settling for a wild-card spot despite going 12-4 this season. After starting the season 1-2, Anthony Lynn and company have won 11 of their last 13 games, losing only to the Broncos and Ravens during that stretch. However, it was not enough to beat out the Chiefs in the AFC West, meaning Los Angeles will most likely need to win three road games in order to reach the Super Bowl.
This will be Lynn’s first time in the playoffs as a head coach. For the Chargers, it’ll be their first time in the playoffs since the 2013 season. That year, the Chargers were able to win a road game against the Bengals despite playing an early game in the eastern time zone. The same challenge awaits them Sunday in Baltimore.
Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Chargers on the road 22-10. A late defensive score by Baltimore made the final score a little inflated. Nevertheless, the Ravens out-gained the Chargers in that game by more than 150 yards. The onus is now on the Chargers to make adjustments to change the result this time around. However. I’ll eat the points and lean toward the Ravens to win by at least a field goal.
Through the first seven starts of his career, Jackson has been a difference maker for the Ravens. Despite unimpressive passing stats and a propensity for fumbles, no team has been able to find an answer for the fact that Jackson is a threat to run the ball on literally every play. The Chargers, to their credit, limited Jackson to just 39 yards on 13 carries a couple of weeks ago. However, they did it at the expense of getting burned by Gus Edwards, who ran for 92 yards on just 14 carries.
It’s possible the Chargers could find some answers for defending the Baltimore rushing attack by playing them twice in a short period of time. But that’s hardly a guarantee with the L.A. defense having to account for both Jackson and Edwards on each play. It’s also worth noting that Baltimore has a steady group of receivers and tight ends. The Ravens may lack an elite receiver, but they have five or six capable receivers.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers may try to make this game a shootout as much as possible. In almost any other year, Philip Rivers would be among the top two or three MVP candidates. He’s thrown for over 4,300 yards while completing 68% of his passes. However, Rivers has struggled late in the season. He failed to reach 200 yards passing in his last two games and he’s thrown six interceptions over his last three games.
The key to the L.A offense in this game will be giving Rivers plenty of support from the running game. Unfortunately, Melvin Gordon was banged up down the stretch and left the 4th quarter of last week’s game with an ankle injury. He also managed just 41 yards on 12 carries against the Ravens a couple of weeks. The Chargers are confident that Gordon will play this week, but it’s tough to know if he’ll be close to his best.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the Baltimore defense was one of the best in the NFL this season. The Ravens yielded just 3.7 yards per carry on the ground this season. They’ve also held four of their last six opponents under 20 points. Even if the past two weeks prove to be an aberration for Rivers, he and the Chargers will still face an uphill battle. Keep in mind that the Chargers were held under 200 yards and turned the ball over three times against the Ravens two weeks ago.
Ultimately, teams that can run the ball and play good defense have an inherent advantage in playoff games. I’m far more confident in the Ravens doing both of those things. Obviously, it’s tough to go against a 12-win team. But I’ve been high on Baltimore for much of the season and the results over the last two months with Jackson at quarterback speak for themselves. I like the Ravens to win by at least a field goal and cover the spread.