AFC-leading Ravens aim for 10th straight win and a division title against the Jets on final TNF game of the season
The Baltimore Ravens are set to host the New York Jets to kick off Week 15 in what will be the final installment of “Thursday Night Football” for the 2019 NFL season. The red-hot Ravens continue to ride a huge wave of momentum after winning a franchise-record ninth consecutive game on Sunday, defeating AFC playoff contender Buffalo on the road, 24-17, and clinching a playoff berth in the process. With a record of 11-2, Baltimore now sits alone atop the AFC standings thanks to some help from the Chiefs’ Week 14 victory over the Patriots. The Ravens also control their own destiny to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. The next order of business is to lock up their second straight AFC North title by extending their win streak to 10 games with a victory over the Jets on Thursday.
The seemingly snake-bitten Jets continue to plow ahead despite another disappointing season plagued by injuries. Their resiliency was on full display at home last Sunday when they knocked off the Dolphins to bounce back from an inexcusable Week 13 loss to the 0-11 Bengals. Kicker Sam Ficken connected on a 44-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jets a 22-21 win over the Fins. A victory that made for sweet revenge for head coach Adam Gase after suffering an embarrassing loss to the 0-7 Dolphins (his former employer) back in Week 7. Unfortunately, the Jets’ fourth win in five games isn't enough to keep them in playoff contention. Now 5-8 on the season, with no possibility of making the postseason, pride will be the Jets’ only motivation as they make their way to Baltimore in search of a colossal upset against the heavily favored Ravens.
New York at Baltimore
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 12 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Ravens -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Ravens’ run game vs. the Jets’ run defense
Thursday's most intriguing matchup pits the Ravens’ top-ranked rushing attack against the Jets' elite run defense. The Jets rank second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (78.8) but give up just 3.0 yards per carry, which paces the league. That bodes well for New York against the strength of the Baltimore offense. However, slowing down a Ravens’ ground game that averages a mind-boggling 200.9 yards per contest to go along with a league-best 18 rushing touchdowns is easier said than done.
The Ravens don’t just feature the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, they do so by a very wide margin with 51.8 more rushing yards per game than their next closest competitor (San Francisco, 149.1 ypg). That gap is the same as the difference between the No. 2-ranked 49ers and the No. 22-ranked Chargers. Even more impressive, Baltimore remains on pace to break the NFL’s single-season team rushing record, which is currently held by the 1978 Patriots.
With the dangerous combination of elusive quarterback Lamar Jackson to go with the power run game of Mark Ingram II, the Jets will face a unique set of challenges unlike any they have faced all season. Will arguably the league's top run defense have anything for the potent Ravens’ ground attack on Thursday? We shall see.
2. Record-setting night for Lamar Jackson?
If the Jets’ defense isn’t up to the challenge, Lamar Jackson is sure to make them pay. The MVP frontrunner joined Michael Vick last week as just the second quarterback in league history to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. And Jackson appears poised to make another run at history on Thursday. He needs just 23 rushing yards against the Jets to break Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback and still has two more games to spare. While the Jets’ run defense is indeed stout, they did allow 37-year-old Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to rush for 65 yards on only 7 carries just last week. So it’s safe to say that Jackson has an excellent shot at breaking the record.
The dual-threat signal-caller is also capable of doing plenty of damage with his arm against the Jets’ 18th-ranked pass defense (242.0 ypg). Jackson leads all NFL quarterbacks with 28 touchdown passes. And a beat-up Jets secondary — which could be down as many as three starters, including star safety Jamal Adams (ankle) — will certainly have its hands full.
With that being said, it could be a tougher than expected outing for Jackson’s favorite target — tight end Mark Andrews — who leads the Ravens in receptions (54), receiving yards (707), and receiving touchdowns (7). The Jets’ defense has been among the stingiest in the NFL in regard to opposing tight ends, allowing just two touchdowns all season.
3. The Jets' offense
The Jets opened the checkbook with the offseason signing of star running back Le’Veon Bell in hopes of bolstering their run game. So far, that has not been the case, as New York ranks a woeful 31st in the NFL in rush offense (75.6 ypg). And while Bell has been an important cog in the Jets' passing game, he has yet to rush for more than 70 yards in a game all season and has just three rushing touchdowns. Bell is expected to return for Thursday's matchup after missing Sunday’s contest against the Dolphins with an illness. But based on his performance thus far, there may not be much hope for him on the ground against the Ravens’ sixth-ranked run defense. That goes for an anemic Jets’ run game as a whole.
However, there may be a glimmer of hope for second-year quarterback Sam Darnold and the Jets’ passing game on Thursday night. Over his last five games, Darnold has thrown nine touchdown passes against two interceptions while averaging a respectable 269.4 passing yards per game. Wide receiver Robby Anderson has caught fire of late, tallying 18 catches for 303 yards and a pair of scores over his last three contests. And leading receiver Jamison Crowder remains a threat, along with red-zone favorite Ryan Griffin and safety valve Bell.
Of course, there are concerns for the Jets’ passing game as well. For starters, the Ravens’ ninth-ranked pass defense has recorded just as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes allowed. And a blitz-happy Baltimore defense that racked up six sacks and 12 QB hits last week against Bills quarterback Josh Allen will likely be a handful for a makeshift Jets offensive line that has allowed the fourth-most sacks (47) in the NFL this season.
If the Jets show up in Baltimore with the same train wreck of an offense that they brought to Cincinnati two weeks ago, Thursday night is going to be very embarrassing for them. In fact, it’s going to require a flawless effort from the Jets on both sides of the football to even have a fighting chance against the red-hot Ravens, who will be battling for a division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Even with a flawless performance, the Jets will be hard-pressed to keep pace with the NFL’s top-scoring offense. And a Baltimore defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game since Week 5 isn’t likely to oblige. Ravens roll to a franchise-record tenth consecutive win in front of the home crowd to secure their second straight AFC North title.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Jets 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.