Lamar Jackson’s soon-to-be MVP 2023 season is shrouded in allegory.
The Ravens QB represents the very best of football, a bumbling vortex capable of leaving defenders ambling on the ground like cherry blossoms on a blustery spring day. He’s a marksman with the ball in his hand, and when it’s tethered to his hip, sparks fly.
Jackson accounted for nearly 4,500 yards of total offense and 29 touchdowns while spearheading Baltimore’s attack. He left glittering masterpieces on the gridiron against both the 49ers and Dolphins, seemingly wrapping up most valuable play talk in the blink of an eye.
And his team — those mighty Ravens — is flying. Baltimore finished the regular season 13-4. It very well could have been better, too. Losses to the Bengals, Steelers (twice), and Browns were decided by a total of just 19 points.
The Ravens have dreams of a Lombardi Trophy. Jackson — the league’s most exciting talent — looks poised to play a central role in leading them there.
Every great journey begins with a step, though. For Baltimore, its pilgrimage starts with a flourish: a home match in the AFC divisional round.
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Just who will the Ravens play, though? Here’s what you need to know.
Who do the Ravens play next?
The Ravens were rewarded for their performance on the field with preferential treatment off of it. Baltimore finished with a record of 13-4 on the season, not just good enough for best record in the league, but also providing John Harbaugh’s squad with a bye week and home-field advantage for the remainder of the playoffs.
When they come out of their bye week, they will be greeted by the lowest remaining seed in the AFC. That left four possibilities when the playoffs began, but Saturday’s action thinned the options down to two.
Here’s the skinny on what would need to happen for each of these matchups to take place.
With the Texans rolling past the Browns in their wild-card matchup, the path to a Houston-Baltimore divisional round matchup simply requires the Bills to defeat the Steelers. A Buffalo victory would leave the Texans as the lowest remaining seed in the AFC and send DeMeco Ryans’ team to Baltimore.
The Ravens handled Stroud and Co. pretty comfortably back in Week 1, vanquishing them by a score of 25-9. That was then, this is now. Stroud was one of the league’s best quarterbacks this year and already showcased his big-game talent with near-flawless displays against the Colts and Browns in recent weeks. Houston also possesses a glut of pass-rushing dynamos and run stuffers in its defensive line, options that could render Todd Monken’s offense ineffective on an off-day.
Off-days have been increasingly uncommon for Baltimore, however, and you’d figure that the Ravens would be favored heavily going into such an affair, especially one that pits one of the league’s best all-around units against a rookie signal-caller, even one as gifted as Stroud.
Baltimore would take on the No. 7 Pittsburgh in the divisional round if the Steelers shock second-seeded Buffalo.
You can never count out a Mike Tomlin-coached team, even one hacked away by key injuries. The Steelers tend to find a way to compete against Jackson-led offenses, as they’ve defeated the Ravens in seven of their last eight trips to M&T Bank Stadium.
However, Pittsburgh is reeling. T.J. Watt (knee) could very well miss out on the trek to Charm City, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll likely be significantly limited due to his MCL sprain.
Mason Rudolph shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Baltimore’s frenzied defense, and if the Ravens can stop the run game in any sort of capacity, it could be a long day for Tomlin and Co.