Both teams enter the contest at 5-2 and in line for a wild card playoff berth. However, neither has much of a signature win to speak of, as both have picked on relative bottom-feeders all season.
Baltimore's season-opening win against Cleveland (5-3) looks better now, but their other wins have come against Houston (1-6), Washington (2-5), Cincinnati (2-5-1), and Philadelphia (3-4-1). The Colts, meanwhile, have wins against the Vikings (2-5), Jets (0-8), Bears (5-3), Bengals (2-5-1), and Lions (3-4). When they did face tougher teams — the Ravens against the undefeated Steelers last week and Indy against Cleveland in Week 5 — they came up short.
Of course, these teams aren't just off to such hot starts because of their schedule; they also both have elite defenses. Baltimore ranks second in scoring defense (18.9 ppg) and seventh in total defense (322.9 ypg), while Indianapolis ranks fifth in scoring (19.4 ppg) and second in total defense (293.4).
The Ravens certainly would have been heavy favorites in this game heading into the season, but injuries have left them thinner. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is out for the season with a severe ankle injury, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey is out with COVID-19. Still, this should be the Colts' toughest test yet as they try to protect their undefeated home record.
Baltimore at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Lamar Jackson cut down on careless plays?
Despite earning the MVP award last season, Jackson has never been a particularly accurate quarterback. Jackson became one of the league's best player because he has major big-play ability and avoided giving away the ball. But now that his turnover problem has returned, the calculus changes.
That's not to say that Jackson is no longer good — far from it. He's still very much elite but needs to focus more on what makes him great. Jackson has been sloppy lately by throwing off his back foot and missing underneath coverage, which was responsible for a pick-six against the Steelers. He's been throwing more to the outside when his strength lies over the middle. All of that adds up to a career-high 2.1 percent interception rate.
Perhaps more concerning was his fumbling problem, even if his three fumbles last week came under wet conditions. He coughed up the ball a league-worst 12 times his rookie year and only cut that down to nine last season. He's back up to six through seven games, which is unacceptably high. It doesn't matter if you lead the league in yards per rushing attempt if you give it away at the end.
The Ravens will see a very different look this week since the Colts blitz at just a 18.8 percent rate (29th in the NFL) — the Steelers ranked third (42.3 percent). Indianapolis has used that to great sucess, holding opponents to a league-low 76.2 passer rating, so there will be plenty of pressure on Jackson as he tries to bounce back from one of the worst starts of his career.
2. What can Jonathan Taylor generate against Baltimore's D?
There haven't been many stars on this revamped Colts offense, but Taylor has been the most pleasant surprise. Although the rookie isn't picking up much on a per-carry basis (3.9), he's been able to handle a heavy load and become a much bigger factor in the passing game than he ever was at Wisconsin.
However, he's coming off his worst pro game — 11 carries for 22 yards and just two receptions for nine yards — and will face his toughest opponent to date. Baltimore is holding opponents to 100.3 rushing yards per game and have only once let a player eclipse 75 yards in a game. The Colts could target new Raven defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who has not historically been great against the run, but it will still be a tough assignment.
If the ground game is stymied, it will be even more important for Taylor to stay involved as a receiver out of the backfield. He's a steady option with 18 receptions on 20 targets and has game-breaking speed in the open field. Check-down options and screens can be as effective as the run anyway if executed well.
3. How much will key peronnel losses affect the Ravens?
As previously mentioned, the Ravens will be shorthanded without Stanley and Humphrey, and their absences could be glaring. After all, Baltimore did just extend the duo during the season for five-year deals worth $122.9 million ($70.9 million guaranteed) and $97.5 million ($66 million guaranteed), respectively.
Stanley's injury hurts especially with the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. He has grown into one of the best left tackles in the league and hasn't given up a single sack since 2018. Former first-rounder D.J. Fluker is expected to slot in at one of the tackle spots, but there's a reason he's spent the last five seasons on four different teams. Colts defensive lineman DeForest Buckner has caused trouble all year, and the Ravens will have to pay even more attention to him now.
Humphrey's loss is probably of less concern this week in part because Indy doesn't have one big receiver for him to lock in on. Through seven games, T.Y. Hilton leads all Colts with just 39 targets, 22 receptions, and 251 yards, and even then, he's disappeared for long stretches. The Ravens' defensive depth is a bit in question with several injuries and key players considered in close contact with Humphreys, but they should be alright by leaning on Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith.
Questions abound for the Ravens after their disappointing win last week, but it's never a good idea to sleep on this team. When they stop turning the ball over, they're one of the most complete teams in the league. The Colts are still looking to find some consistency on offense, and this could be their chance against a thinning defense.
Whoever comes out on top will have a statement win and can solidify their place in the AFC playoff race. There's still half the season to play, but starting 6-2 is a good place to be at with one highly coveted bye on the line and a crowded wild-card picture. The Ravens are the better bet, but there's a clear path to victory for the Colts if they start by giving Lamar Jackson fits.