The NFL playoffs are in primetime with the AFC Divisional Round game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans. Kickoff is set for 8:15 EST on Saturday, January 11 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Current betting odds list the Ravens as 9-point favorites at home with an over/under of 46.5 points. Click here to check out the odds for all four Divisional Round playoff games.
The Titans may have backed into the playoffs with two losses in their last three regular-season games. But Mike Vrabel’s team look like they belonged in the postseason by winning in New England last weekend. It was an ugly game, but the Titans were able to run the ball and play tough defense against Tom Brady and the Patriots. By doing so they accomplished something less than a handful of teams have done in the last 20 years, which is win a playoff game in New England. The Titans are now back in the Divisional Round for the second time in the last three years and hoping to reach the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 20 years when they ended up in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are hoping that their 14-2 regular season won’t go to waste in the postseason. Baltimore enters the playoffs on a 12-game winning streak, with their last loss coming in Week 4. The Ravens even won in Week 17 when they rested several key starters. Of course, that means it’ll be nearly three weeks since the Ravens played a meaningful game, creating a long layoff for some of the team’s star players who were rested in Week 17. That being said, John Harbaugh is no stranger to playoff football. This is the eighth time in his 12 seasons in Baltimore that Harbaugh is leading the Ravens into the playoffs. He owns a 10-6 record during that time.
These two teams last met during the 2018 regular season, roughly 15 months ago. The Ravens won that game in Nashville 21-0. Of course, that was before Marcus Mariota lost his job to Ryan Tannehill and before Lamar Jackson took over as Baltimore’s starting quarterback. It’s safe to say that a lot has changed since that game, even more than what’s at stake on Saturday night.
After we saw four close and competitive games during the opening weekend of the playoffs, it’s tough to swallow more than a touchdown for any team. Obviously, Baltimore’s 14-2 record during the regular season puts them a level above most teams. However, the Titans are 8-3 since the switch to Tannehill, so they’re better than their record indicates. Much like they did last week, I think Tennessee can make this game ugly enough to keep it a one-score contest and beat the spread.
In case there was any doubt, the secret is out that Derrick Henry holds the key for the Titans. After leading the NFL in rushing during the regular season, Henry took the ball 34 times and ran for 182 yards against the Patriots. The New England defense knew what was coming and still had a hard time stopping it. The Titans will continue to ride Henry, who can wear out defenses over the course of the game and will be unaffected by any adverse weather conditions on a January night in Baltimore.
Keep in mind that the Patriots were one of the best in the league at stopping the run during the regular season. It was reasonable that New England would keep Henry somewhat contained. Instead, they gave up over five yards per carry and couldn’t force Tannehill to beat them. Baltimore’s defense could face similar issues. The Ravens spent most of the season playing with a lead, so many teams eventually abandoned the run against them. But when they faced it, the Baltimore defense was a little below average at stopping the run, giving up 4.4 yards per carry.
If the Ravens can’t stop Henry, it’ll be difficult for them to gain separation in this game. The Titans are going to remain committed to the run as long as possible and should be able to drain the clock, limiting Jackson’s time on the field. Even if the Titans have to lean a little on Tannehill, that’s not the worst thing in the world. He’s proven himself to be a suitable quarterback and has capable receivers with A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, so Henry isn’t the only player the Ravens need to worry about.
Of course, the Titans will need to get a little help from their defense against the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. With Mark Ingram on track to play, the Tennessee defense should expect a heavy dose of the run with Ingram and Jackson. Even if they can force Jackson to throw the ball, he’s minimized many of the shortcomings he had in the playoffs last season. However, the Titans have been solid defensively this season and should be able to put up a little more resistance than most teams the Ravens faced during their 12-game winning streak.
With both teams being dedicated to the running game, this could be a fast-moving game with few possessions. That will make it difficult for Baltimore to win by multiple scores and cover the spread. Also, between Henry being almost impossible to stop and the Ravens perhaps having some rust to shake off, I think Tennessee finds a way to hang around into the fourth quarter and beat the 9-point spread.