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Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens Prediction: MVP-Caliber QBs Headline Key AFC Matchup

Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson meet for the third time in a game that could matter greatly down the road.

NFL fans and media love to rank who the best player was from each draft class. And they certainly love a good MVP debate. Well, football fans can have both wrapped up in one when the Bills and Ravens meet on Sunday afternoon.

Related: NFL Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

For all the preseason hype around Josh Allen and the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills, Lamar Jackson is the quarterback from the 2018 draft who actually has an MVP. And he's playing better than ever in 2022.

Of course, Allen continues to fill the stat sheet nicely as well. The two rank in the top five in most categories, including QBR (Jackson 78.4, 2nd; Allen 77.7, 3rd), touchdown passes (10, 1st; 9, 2nd), adjusted yards per attempt (9.8, 2nd; 8.4, 5th), and quarterback rushing (243, 1st; 113, 4th).

The strong quarterback play has helped each of their teams to a 2-1 start, with their sole losses coming at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Baltimore blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead at home in Week 2, while the Bills literally and figuratively melted in Miami in a two-point loss last Sunday.

While this game will only mean so much in the MVP debate over a 17-game season, it could have major playoff implications. Head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker for seeding, and these teams expect to both be playing well into January — or longer.

Allen and Jackson have met twice before, with each winning one game, although the Bills' victory was a decisive playoff win two seasons ago. So which star quarterback will take the lead in this budding rivalry on Sunday?

Buffalo (2-1) at Baltimore (2-1)

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Bills -3
Tickets: As low as $154 on SITickets.com*

Three Things to Watch

1. Are these' battered secondaries up to the test?
This game already appeared to be a shootout in the making, and the injury report only strengthens that likelihood. Baltimore has been bleeding cornerbacks since the start of last season, while Buffalo has been hit hard in recent weeks.

Despite getting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters back from injury and adding first-round safety Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens rank last in the NFL in pass defense at 353.3 yards allowed per game. Both corners appeared on the injury report this week, along with Brandon Stephens (quad) and Damarion Williams (ankle), which could leave a thin group even more vulnerable.

The Ravens have been particularly vulnerable to slot receivers this season, so this could be another big game for Isaiah McKenzie, who hauled in seven passes for 76 yards and a score last week.

The Bills, who were already without All-Pro corner Tre'Davious White, lost Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde to a season-ending neck injury last week. And with Dane Jackson also sidelined with another scary neck injury and Jordan Poyer (foot) and Cameron Lewis (forearm) banged up, the Bills had to go out and sign veteran Xavier Rhodes off the street.

Stopping Allen or Jackson seems unlikely. But whichever team can stop the bleeding and hold the opponent to field goals will be in decent shape. And both of these teams have struggled in this department so far, with bottom-five red zone defenses; Baltimore has allowed a touchdown 72.7 percent of the time (t-27th) while Buffalo is at 83.3 percent (31st).

2. Is the Bills' run defense this good?
Reading into stats through three weeks can be a fool's game, but the Bills look dramatically better in one department. After ranking 13th in rush defense in 2021, they rank second in both yards allowed per game (57.7) and per attempt (2.8). And the advanced numbers back that up, where they rank third in adjusted line yards (3.04).

Yes, their opponents do matter. The Rams and Dolphins are much better at throwing the ball than running it, and the Bills were up so much on the Titans that they barely had a chance to run. But this team also really beefed up its front seven over the summer with Von Miller, Shaq Lawson, Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, and Jordan Phillips, who is questionable to play with a hamstring injury.

The Ravens will be a major test to see how legit this defense really is. Given, they're a particularly unique case since nearly 60 percent of their rushing yards come from their quarterback. But there's reason to believe their production at running back will improve with J.K. Dobbins almost back to full health after making his long-awaited return last week and former Oklahoma State star Justice Hill looks like he could emerge as a strong complementary piece. 

Baltimore leads the league in pass DVOA, largely thanks to success from play-action under center, but that's come at the cost of the running game. According to TruMedia, the Ravens are averaging 7.0 ypc from shotgun compared to a measly 2.1 under center. That will have to change or opponents like the Bills will adjust and make them change.

3. Can Baltimore's offensive line keep up?
The Ravens have one of the best left tackles in the league, but recently that's just been on paper. A pair of ankle injuries have limited Ronnie Stanley to just one game the last two seasons. It's been a weekly question of whether he'll be ready to play since he returned to practice on a limited basis three weeks ago, but he finally practiced fully on Wednesday.

Whether or not he returns, Baltimore has held up surprisingly well in his absence. The running struggles may have to do with Dobbins not being 100 percent and Kenyan Drake being over the hill, as the team ranks fourth in the NFL with a 76 percent run block win rate. Their 67 percent pass block win rate also ranks sixth. But considering that they've been depending on a pair of rookies in Tyler Linderbaum and Daniel Faalele, that may not be sustainable.

The Bills are tied for third in the NFL with 11 sacks — led by 3.5 from Greg Rousseau — although their pressure rate (27.3 percent, 13th) and hurry rate (8.1 percent, 22nd) leave room for improvement. Getting pressure on Jackson, who has the third-longest average time to throw (3.02 seconds) in the NFL, will be key.  

Final Analysis

We should be so lucky to see these teams play again in January when they're (ideally) each closer to full strength. But for now, the Bills have the slight edge in the health department, which may be enough to pull out a narrow road win. 

Prediction: Bills 26, Ravens 24

*Price as of publication.