Everything is trending in the right direction for the Baltimore Ravens.
After a 33-19 Christmas Day win over the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL, winners of five straight with a 12-point average margin of victory during that stretch. And at 12-3, the Super Bowl contenders are in complete control of its postseason destiny.
With an NFL Week 17 win at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore would clinch the AFC North for the first time since 2019 and secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs – along with the accompanying first-round bye. Even with a loss, the Ravens would win the AFC North with a win next week or a Week 18 loss by Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns.
The captain of the ship is Lamar Jackson, who has become the favorite to win his second career MVP award after two touchdowns and nearly 300 total yards against the 49ers. Baltimore’s defense aided in that effort by picking off Brock Purdy four times and essentially killing the San Francisco quarterback’s MVP candidacy.
For the second straight week, however, Jackson and the Ravens have to get up for a Sunday kickoff against a team with a pair of MVP candidates in Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the high-powered Miami Dolphins (on CBS).
Miami is also coming off a marquee matchup against an NFC contender, beating the Dallas Cowboys 22-20 on Saturday. It can clinch the AFC East with a win this weekend, or with a loss or tie by the Buffalo Bills. But Miami has its sights set even higher than a division title.
While the Ravens sit atop the AFC, the Dolphins are only a game behind at 11-4 and could pick up a crucial tiebreaker in the race for a first-round bye with a win in Baltimore on Sunday. It’s been a generation since Miami fans have seen a team this good, with the Dolphins targeting their first 12-win season since 1990.
To make this matchup even more juicy, there is recent history between the teams. The Dolphins and Ravens last met in Week 2 of last season, when Tagovailoa threw four of his six touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to rally Miami to a 42-38 victory. Despite throwing two interceptions, Tagovailoa’s six TD passes and 469 yards remain his career bests.
Jackson was equally brilliant, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers, while adding 119 rushing yards and another score.
With playoff implications, multiple MVP candidates and a history of dueling top-tier quarterbacks, this late-season matchup promises to be as good as an NFL regular season game can get on paper. All those factors combine to give this game a SmartRating of 66, making it projected to be one of the most exciting games of Week 17.
NFL Leaders – Points Per Game
- Miami Dolphins (30.9)
- Dallas Cowboys (30.1)
- San Francisco 49ers (29.6)
- Baltimore Ravens (27.8)
- Detroit Lions (27.5)
Most sportsbooks have the Ravens favored by a field goal, and our projection systems also gives Baltimore a slight edge with a 61.4% chance of securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Despite both teams boasting strong defenses, oddsmakers have given this game a projected total of 47 points, one of the higher totals of the week.
So the question remains: Will Jackson continue his march toward a second MVP, or will the Dolphins’ star power propel them to the AFC’s top seed?
BAL Key: Find Help for Lamar
While Jackson’s numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as those of a typical MVP quarterback – or even as impressive as his 2019 campaign – he has been the definition of “valuable” as the engine that drives Baltimore’s offense.
The offense has sustained several key injuries but keeps producing because of Jackson’s dynamic playmaking ability. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Keaton Mitchell have been lost for the season, and Jackson’s favorite target – tight end Mark Andrews – has been out since Week 11 with an ankle injury.
Jackson has responded by going 4-0 since Andrews went down, averaging over 290 yards of total offense per game and committing two combined turnovers. He’s been dangerous through the air and is averaging 10.45 air yards per attempt on non-screen passes, ranking third among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts.
Jackson has also excelled in finding open receivers, even in the first year under offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Over 82% of his attempts have been directed toward an open receiver, the third-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks.
Jackson has been carrying a heavy load, though, especially in recent weeks. He’s the Ravens’ leading rusher with 786 yards and has led the team in rushing in each of the last three games – all for a team with the league’s best ground game at 159.7 yards per game.
The answer to relieving the pressure on Jackson may lie with receiver Zay Flowers, who has 74 catches and 752 yards in his rookie campaign. Flowers has been targeted 15 times this season on bubble screens – more than any other receiver – as the Ravens use screens and run-pass options as an extension of Jackson’s threat in the running game.
Flowers has proven dangerous after the catch, forcing 0.305 missed and broken tackles per touch – second among receivers with at least 50 offensive touches.
Jackson has been Superman for the Ravens this year, but it might be too much to ask of him to single-handedly win this one, especially against a Dolphins defense that has quietly been amongst the NFL’s best over the last several weeks and leads the league with a 41.2% pressure rate.
Total Points Allowed (Past Eight Games)
- 1. Miami Dolphins (127)
- 2. Las Vegas Raiders (133)
- 3. Pittsburgh Steelers (144)
- 4. New England Patriots (145)
- T-5. Baltimore Ravens (147)
- T-5. Minnesota Vikings (147)
MIA Key: Stay Patient on Offense
Tagovailoa and Hill are putting together one of the most impressive seasons for a duo in NFL history. Tua has completed an NFL-high 70.5% of his passes and leads the league with 4,214 passing yards. He’s tied for sixth with 26 touchdown passes and ranks second in both yards per attempt and passer rating.
Hill has been Tua’s favorite weapon, totaling 106 receptions for 1,641 yards and 12 touchdowns. The seven-time Pro Bowler’s 15.5 yards per catch is his highest average since the 2018 season and he has 20 receptions of 25 yards or more – five more than any other player.
Hill has separated himself from the pack – literally and figuratively. He’s averaging a league-leading 5.4 burn yards per route. The NFL average among wide receivers with at least 200 routes is 2.2 and the 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk is closest to Hill at 3.9.
The big play abilities of Hill, Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert have made the offense the most prolific quick-strike threats in the NFL. However, Waddle won’t be part of the attack in Baltimore due to a high ankle sprain.
Still, no team is better at making opponents work for their opportunities than the Ravens, setting up a gigantic strength-on-strength showdown.
Points on Drives of Three or Fewer Plays
- Miami Dolphins (108)
- San Francisco 49ers (77)
- Denver Broncos (68)
- Detroit Lions (62)
- Baltimore Ravens (52)
Opponent Points on Drives of Three or Fewer Plays
- T-1. Baltimore Ravens (7)
- T-1. Chicago Bears (7)
- 3. New England Patriots (14)
- T-4. Detroit Lions (20)
- T-4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20)
Defensively, Baltimore blitzes at a below-average rate of 26.4% and Tagovailoa has absolutely shredded opposing defenses when they send extra rushers to the tune of an NFL-leading 133.3 passer rating against the blitz.
Tagovailoa’s average release time of 2.32 seconds is faster than any other quarterback with at least 100 attempts, negating any pass-rush advantage the defense has during blitzing situations.
With the Ravens likely to rush four on most passing downs, the Dolphins would be best served to stay patient and resist the urge to force the ball downfield to Hill.
As good as Miami is at finding big plays downfield, the Baltimore defense has smothered the deep ball all year long.
Opponent Passer Rating on Attempts of 21+ Air Yards
- Cleveland Browns (26.0)
- Baltimore Ravens (33.2)
- New York Jets (46.7)
- Miami Dolphins (48.5)
- Las Vegas Raiders (52.4)
Mike McDaniel and Miami’s coaching staff will need to find other ways to put the ball in the hands of the team’s best playmakers. Hill can be just as dangerous underneath as he is deep downfield, leading the NFL with 648 yards after catch.
Baltimore’s defense has played with the lead a lot this year, but that unit has been just average against the run, allowing a success rate of 34.7%.
While it can be tempting to dial up the deep ball with Hill, the Dolphins will have a chance to move the ball if they stay patient and don’t ignore the running game.
If not, the Ravens could add to their NFL-high total of 54 sacks and be on their way to a first-round bye in the playoffs.