This was always the portion of the schedule that would prove the most difficult.
And that was before the Denver Broncos morphed back into the proverbial dumpster fire. Now that the hardest part of the schedule is here, fans are looking to the end of the season.
That’s not the case for the Baltimore Ravens. Entering Sunday’s game, the Ravens are in an AFC North battle with the Cincinnati Bengals. And on the heels of a tough loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore needs a win on Sunday.
DraftKings Sportsbook has the Broncos as heavy +8.5-point underdogs. The fact that number isn’t higher is a little surprising. As for the total, that number sits at 39.5. That number is way too high. If you want a “safe bet,” the under is 10-1 in Denver games this season and that will surely hit again on Sunday.
To preview the game, we go behind enemy lines with Kyle Barber from Baltimore Beatdown to get a feel for the Ravens, why the franchise doesn’t get Lamar Jackson receivers and if Baltimore can top the Bengals in the AFC North. For those interested, you can read my answers to Kyle’s 5 questions about the Broncos.
MHR: What is the story of the Ravens through the first 12 weeks of the NFL season? And how will they fight off the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North?
Kyle: The story has been the battle against themselves. They’ve led in all 11 games by two possessions, but have failed to close out in the fourth quarter four times. They’ve yet to put together a complete 60 minutes in all phases of the game and as a result find themselves neck-and-neck with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North crown.
On offense, it’s the same old frustrations. The Ravens are lacking wide receivers and as a result, can’t seem to jump start the passing attack. Tight ends, namely Mark Andrews, can only do so much. The run game has been inconsistent and their red zone offense is stalling out at a higher rate than seasons past. The play clock issues have become a significant issue with the most recent game being a particular showing of stalling out offensive drives.
Regarding the defense, it’s clear the unit is held together by cornerback Marlon Humphrey. When he’s on the field, he’s negating his side and forcing opponents to throw elsewhere. When he’s off the field, teams are able to attack however they please. Cornerback Marcus Peters has been struggling as of late, and was victimized by Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence last week for five receptions for 27 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s all inconsistency, which is frustrating because you can see the strengths of this unit shine through in any given game, but the inconsistent performances leave you wondering what’s wrong.
MHR: How are Baltimore fans feeling about the current state of the season, especially after just losing to the Jaguars? Tied into that, why don’t the Ravens ever get Lamar Jackson receivers?
Kyle: Ravens fans, per usual, are asking for Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman to be banished to the shadow realm. They’ve requested this for a couple seasons now. But, in fairness to Roman, he doesn’t have the strongest wide receiver group, as you mentioned. He schemed up a winning formula last week, though Ravens fans won’t admit it. Three different pass catchers dropped touchdowns, leaving them to kick three field goals instead of score, leaving 12 points off the board.
As for the receivers issue, I believe they do give Jackson receivers. They’ve spent two first-round picks on wide receivers. They’ve spent more in later rounds, too. Developing wide receivers has been a struggle for them and when they landed their guy in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, he spent two offseasons requesting a trade and got his wish in April during the 2022 NFL draft. His replacement, Rashod Bateman, suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury that knocked him out for the season.
That’s not to say they have done enough and given him an arsenal of receivers. I think the argument could be made that they needed a wide receiver more than inside linebacker Roquan Smith, but both were positions of need and Smith was likely an easier lock during the NFL trade deadline.
MHR: What should Broncos Country know about the Ravens? What should fans expect from Baltimore on Sunday?
Kyle: Lamar Jackson can (and likely will) do things on the football field only he can do. His speed, agility and elusiveness is one-of-a-kind.
More big picture, look for the Ravens to run the ball against the Broncos. Reasons being the Broncos pass defense is rather stout but they’ve struggled to stop the run and that’s the Ravens’ strength. The o-line has been rather solid this season and running back Gus Edwards is a powerful back with some speed behind him.
Regarding the Ravens’ defense, they’re consistently generating takeaways. They’ve forced a turnover in every game this season, and have 20 on the year in 11 games. I know earlier I spoke on Peters struggling, but he’s notched two fumble recoveries and an interception. Humphrey has intercepted three passes and had two recoveries of his own.
The pass rush has been solid lately, generating three or more sacks in seven straight games (the longest active NFL streak). In those games, they’ve produced 27 sacks, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys (30).
You know him, you hate him, but Justin Tucker is still nuking footballs from 50+. He was a few yards shy of hitting a 67-yard game-winner against the Jaguars last week, too. So, watch for the Ravens to trot him out when they’re across midfield.
MHR: What is your best bet for Sunday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? What do you think of the Ravens being massive favorites?
Kyle: The Ravens are heavily favored and I’m not buying it unless somehow the red zone offense is fixed, but I doubt that when they’re up against a heavily impressive Broncos defense. This game is about whose defense can out-muscle their opponent and it’s going to be close. I think the Ravens win due to Tucker.
MHR: What are your expectations/predictions for Sunday’s game?
Kyle: As I said, I think this is going to be a sluggish battle. Not a defensive clinic, but rather two struggling offenses trying to punch through. Whichever defense folds first will suffer defeat, and I think I’m taking the home team on this one in a close battle. Ravens defeat Broncos, 18-13.
This post is brought to you by DraftKings Sportsbook.