Which Stars Need to Show Up This Weekend?
By: Brady Akins (Twitter: @BardyAkins)
Welcome to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, where we say goodbye to a few fan favorites and turn our attention to the future. Russell Wilson has packed away his pots and pans, Mitchell Trubisky has dusted off the shelves in search of a spot for his Nickelodeon MVP award, and fans across the country have, through tears and emotional resistance, packed away their Taylor Heinicke jerseys in preparation for a 2021 Football Team run.
Now is a time for the big boys of the league. The preseason favorites are all here, ready and waiting for their shot to move on. The Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints, the… wait, the Cleveland Browns are still here?
Regardless of regular-season records, midseason slumps, or in the case of the Browns, a nightmarish curse spanning nearly two decades, the eight teams here on divisional round are the eight teams that deserve to be here. The eight best teams in the league.
As such, the four games across the NFL schedule for Saturday and Sunday will be as even as they come, games that could be decided by one individual performance or matchup.
Before those games begin and are ultimately decided, let’s take a game-by-game look at which matchups could be the most influential in deciding who moves on, and who goes home.
Ravens vs Bills — Ravens ‘Blitz-Heavy’ Defense vs Bills Passing Attack
It’s a clash of contrasting offensive and defensive ideologies that could make for one of the more intriguing matchups of the Divisional Round. It’s the aggressive, blitz-heavy approach of the Baltimore Ravens defense versus the analytical darling, pass-first run-never offense of the Buffalo Bills.
Somewhere in this game, be it for four quarters or just one, decisive moment, something has to give. The Ravens starting 11, on every level of the field, is a flock of hunters (get it, flock?) all willing and capable of generating pressure. Baltimore is not only fifth in pressure rate in the league but ranks first in both total quarterback knockdowns and total blitz rate at an unheard of 44%.
At a surface level, this should favor the Bills, who have a quarterback in Josh Allen who has grown into something of a master at avoiding pressure, being taken down on just 4.3% of his dropbacks, seventh-fewest in the NFL. But, it’s football, nothing is ever quite that simple. Much of what the Bills look to do on offense involves long-developing deep shots, with Allen ranking top ten among quarterbacks in both intended and completed air yards per pass, and third overall in time to throw.
With all things equal schematically, this game could be decided less by coaching and philosophy and more about the actual talent on the field, where things might be even more equal. Stefon Diggs and John Brown are two exceptional receivers for Buffalo, with release and route-running skills to get open at the drop of a hat. But, the cornerbacks they’re facing in Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey could very well be the most talented cornerback duo in the league.
Baltimore’s defensive line, led by Calais Campbell, is one of the scarier position groups in the league, but Buffalo’s offensive line, a group manned by Mitch Morse at center, is more than capable of holding their own.
But the dam will break for one team or another. And if Josh Allen and the Bills’ passing offense can make just enough plays, it could be their game to lose.