In a highly-anticipated Wild Card game, Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) visit the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) for the second time in three weeks.
The Ravens, led by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, won their previous meeting against the Chargers 22-10 during a home game in Week 16.
Despite 12 wins this season, the red-hot Chargers finished in second place in the AFC West behind the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers qualified for the playoffs with a Wild Card berth and locked up the #5 seed. This year’s squad is sending seven players to the Pro Bowl, which is more than any other team.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Chargers are 10-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens are 6-1 odds to win Super Bowl LIII.
#5 Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at #4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Kickoff: 10:05am PT
Location: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Point Spread: Ravens -3
The point spread opened with the Ravens as a favorite by a field goal. The Ravens are 7-1 when playing in a Wild Card game. Philip Rivers is 3-0 in Wild Card games.
Rivers for MVP
Philip Rivers posted another MVP-like performance this season with 4,308 passing yards, a 68.3 percent completion rate, 42 touchdowns, and a 71.2 QBR. Rivers carried the team late in the season when Melvin Gordon (1,375 total yards from scrimmage, 10 rushing TD, 4 passing TDs) missed several games with an MCL knee sprain.
Rivers and Keenan Allen hooked up with 97 receptions and six touchdowns this season. If the Ravens allow Rivers and Allen to inflict significant damage, the Ravens are doomed.
In Week 16’s loss to the Ravens, Rivers had one of his worst games of the season with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Rivers’ deepest completion all game was only 17 yards as the Ravens secondary shutdown any potential deep balls.
It’s hard to ignore the statistics. Joey Flacco was only 4-5 as a starter this season and he lost four out of his last five starts including a 12-9 gut-wrenching loss in overtime to the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens went 6-1 with rookie Lamar Jackson starting at quarterback. His only loss happened in overtime on the road against the top team in the AFC. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs held on to win 27-24 in Week 14.
Jackson, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 with Louisville, baffled defenses in the second half of the season. They do not know how to stop him when they play breaks down and he takes off running. Jackson averages 4.7 yards per carry and he scored five rushing touchdowns.
Coupled with Gus Edwards, the Ravens boast the second-best rushing attack in the NFL with 152.6 rushing yards per game. Only the Seahawks, anchored by Chris Carson, have a more lethal running game. Edwards averages 5.2 yards per carry.
Who Has a Better Defense?
Jim Harbaugh’s defense is always one of the best in the league. This season, the Ravens allowed only 17.9 points per game, which is second best in the NFL. However, they face the sixth-best scoring offense in the NFL that churns out 26.8 points per game.
The Chargers have a better defense than people think, and they allow only 20.6 points per game, which ranks them #8 overall. The run defense for the Chargers will be on full alert trying to contain Jackson and Edwards. The Chargers are ranked ninth overall, allowing only 105.8 yards per game.
The Tucker Factor
Justin Tucker is one of the greatest kickers in NFL history. Much to his dismay, he missed his first and only extra point earlier this season. In a year in which kickers were on the hot seat, the Ravens have one of the most reliable kickers in the postseason.
With Tucker’s ability to drill long-range field goals without blinking, Tucker gives the Ravens a chance to win any game so close as the defense keeps it close. Tucker put up 141 points this season and he connected on 35 out of 38 FG attempts. He nailed five from 50-yards or longer.