Ravens and Jaguars make their way across the pond to face off in London on Sunday
Wembley Stadium will serve as the backdrop for a Sunday matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars in the first of four NFL games to be played in London in 2017. This will be the 21st meeting all time between Baltimore and Jacksonville. It will be the first time the former division foes have met outside of the United States. Jacksonville holds a slight 11-9 edge in the all-time series. However, Baltimore has won two of the last three, including a hard-fought 19-17 victory in Jacksonville last season.
The Jaguars (1-1) opened with an impressive 29-7 win on the road over the Texans before losing 37-16 at home to the Titans. This is the marks the fifth season in a row in which Jacksonville is playing in London. The Jaguars have won their last two games played at Wembley Stadium.
The Ravens (2-0) will be making their first-ever trip to London and have been quite impressive in their first two games. A strong defensive effort led to a 20-0 shutout on the road against the Bengals in Week 1, followed by a 24-10 win at home over the Browns.
Baltimore vs. Jacksonville (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 9:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: streamed live on Yahoo.com
Spread: Baltimore -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Life after Marshal Yanda
Baltimore entered the 2017 season with question marks along its offensive line. Those issues will be further compounded by the season-ending ankle injury to Yanda, the Ravens' All-Pro offensive guard. It’s not often that an offensive lineman is credited with being the best player on the team, but that is the case with Yanda, a Pro Bowler in each of the last six seasons.
Journeyman offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom will attempt to fill the void. The Ravens acquired Bergstrom via a trade with the Cardinals earlier this month. He will be making just his fifth NFL start on Sunday against the Jaguars.
It should be interesting to see how the Ravens offensive line holds up without its star anchor. Yanda’s absence in the lineup could prove to be a major setback for the Ravens’ offense on Sunday and beyond. It will be hard to keep a clean pocket for Joe Flacco against a Jacksonville defense that accumulated 10 sacks in Week 1 alone. And the Baltimore run game could suffer as well.
Baltimore has already forced an NFL-best 10 turnovers in its first two games, eight of those interceptions. That probably doesn’t bode too well for Jacksonville quarterback Black Bortles, who was picked off three times by the Ravens last season. Bortles turned the ball over three times (2 INTs, 1 fumble) in last week's loss to the Titans. There isn’t a more opportunistic defense in the league right now than the Ravens. And Baltimore will make the Jaguars’ turnover-prone signal-caller pay every chance it gets.
The Jaguars have done a job in the takeaway department as well with five in their first two games. Their pass rush has been second to none, however, with 11 sacks already. If that trend continues Sunday against a weakened Ravens offensive line, there could be more turnovers from a Baltimore offense that had three in last season's meeting with Jacksonville. Turnovers could loom large for both teams again on Sunday.
3. Ground and pound
Baltimore enters Sunday’s matchup with the No. 3-ranked rushing attack in the NFL (146.5 ypg). A matchup that bodes favorably against a Jacksonville run defense that has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (272) in the NFL in the first two weeks to go along with three touchdowns on the ground. Javorius “Buck” Allen is leading the Ravens in rushing and could see even more touches in London if Terrance West is unable to play due to a calf injury. And don't forget Baltimore also will be without its best offensive lineman, arguably its best player, in Yanda.
Jacksonville also is expected to lean heavily on its run game. The Jaguars' issues with the passing game are well-documented, including the absence of No. 1 wide receiver Allen Robinson (ACL). That probably means a heavy dose of Leonard Fournette. The fourth overall pick in this year's draft had a nice debut, picking up 100 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Houston. He was held to just 40 rushing yards last week against Tennessee, but found the end zone again. The Ravens have given up a total of 170 rushing yards but no touchdowns on the ground in two games. Fournette’s job figures to be slightly easier if Baltimore's mammoth nose tackle Brandon Williams is unable to play (foot).
The Ravens and Jaguars have faced off in each of the last three seasons, and each time it was a hard-fought defensive struggle. This year’s game has all the makings to be much the same. The winning formula is fairly simple — the team that controls the clock with its ground game and commits the fewest turnovers wins. The hard part is trying to determine which team that will be. The loss of Marshal Yanda is the big x-factor for the Baltimore's offense. However, a defense that has allowed just 10 points in two games is good enough to carry the Ravens to victory in London.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Jaguars 17
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.