The Baltimore Ravens are enjoying the gift of having a healthy Lamar Jackson this holiday season.

Trevor Lawrence is hurting, and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ chances of winning the AFC South have in turn taken a bit of a hit.  

Still smarting from back-to-back painful losses to two other AFC North inhabitants, the Jaguars will try to avoid an unwanted trifecta when the formidable Ravens come to Everbank Stadium (formerly TIAA Bank Field) in Florida for an NBC primetime Sunday night showdown of division leaders.

Lawrence’s tender right ankle isn’t the only worry in Duval County right now, as recent defeats to the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns have taken Jacksonville’s once-comfortable lead atop the AFC South down to a perilous one game over the upstart Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans entering the season’s stretch run.

And with our predictive model giving the Colts a solid chance of winning (54.2%) again this weekend, that gap would be completely closed if the banged-up Jaguars can’t meet the difficult challenge the conference-leading Ravens should present.

It’s still not panic time just yet for the Jags, who have the easiest remaining schedule among the three contenders based on current records as well as tiebreaker advantages on both the Colts (season series sweep) and Texans (better division record). And our season predictor still rates Jacksonville a fairly prohibitive favorite (65.2%) to capture a second straight AFC South crown.

That being said, no likely playoff team wants to be losing three straight games in December. And since the Jaguars haven’t had the chance to strut their stuff all too often on the national stage (this will be just their second regular-season Sunday Night Football appearance ever, and the other came in 2008), they won’t be lacking motivation in an opportunity to both make an impression and erase the failures of the past two weeks.

As for the Ravens, the football gods seem to be finally smiling upon them following two straight miserable Decembers in which they were beset by eventual season-ending injuries to Jackson.

A bum ankle sidelined the 2019 NFL MVP for the final four games of 2021, and Baltimore lost all four to miss the playoffs. Last year, the Ravens were tied atop the AFC North when Jackson sprained his knee in Week 13. They went 2-3 the rest of the way, got passed by Cincinnati for the division lead, then were quickly dispatched by the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

Baltimore had nothing but good fortune a week ago, however. On a day when all of the AFC’s three other division leaders lost, the Ravens rallied for a hard-earned 37-31 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Rams to gain sole possession of first place in the conference and the best chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (27.1%), according to our computer.

As far as the point spread, Jacksonville currently stands as a three-point home underdog according to the sportsbooks, and will need to shore up some trouble spots that have been glaring contributing factors to its two straight losses in order to pull off what the general public would consider a mild upset.

Ravens vs Jags

BAL Key: Pressure Trevor Lawrence

The Jaguars are limping home from last week’s 31-27 loss in Cleveland that really wasn’t as competitive as the final score indicated, though the high ankle sprain Lawrence suffered just six days prior to starting that game isn’t their greatest medical concern.

And when taking a deeper dive, it surely isn’t the sole explanation or the primary reason for his rough three-turnover performance against the Browns. 

Top wide receiver Christian Kirk’s absence due to a groin injury he suffered early on in Jacksonville’s NFL Week 13 loss to Cincinnati definitely had at least some effect on the offense’s out-of-sync effort last Sunday.

With a well-above average open rate of 80% this season, Kirk is Lawrence’s most dependable target outside of standout tight end Evan Engram, as well as a player who’s made counterpart Calvin Ridley more dangerous when the two are paired together.

Ridley had a burn rate of 69.7% and an open percentage of 76.3 over the Jags’ first 11 games. Over the last two, those numbers have dipped to 55 and 60%, respectively.

Zay Jones, who torched the Ravens for 145 yards on 11 catches in Jacksonville’s 28-27 win in last season’s meeting between these teams, would be a more than suitable fill-in for Kirk had he maintained his 2022 form. He hasn’t, though, with an open rate of 63.8% that ranks in the bottom tier of wide receivers as he’s battled through a knee injury that’s caused him to miss extensive time this season. 

The Jags’ biggest problem last week, though, was that an offensive line that was down to a fourth-string left tackle by the end of the game didn’t afford Lawrence the protection he’s usually had during his overall very good season. The Browns registered a pressure rate of 42.1% for the game, and that persistent harassment resulted in Lawrence completing an unusually low 56% of his throws to go along with the season-high three picks.

Perhaps more than any other team in the league, the Jaguars go as their quarterback goes. They’re 8-1 when Lawrence records a passer rating above 90, and 0-4 when he finishes below 86.

When Lawrence plays well, Jacksonville usually wins. And when he’s constantly under siege, he generally hasn’t played well.

Of the 33 quarterbacks with at least 40 adjusted attempts under pressure this season, Lawrence owns the third-worst completion percentage (48.9) and catchable ball percentage (56.8), ahead of only rookies Bryce Young of the Carolina Panthers and Will Levis of the Tennessee Titans in both categories.

And his pickable pass percentage of 7.95 is the second highest of those who qualify under those conditions.


  1. Mac Jones, New England Patriots (8.89)
  2. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (7.95)
  3. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers (7.69)
  4. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (6.67)
  5. Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks (6.54)

The Jaguars have allowed an opposing pressure rate of 37% or above just four times this season. It’s probably no coincidence that those are the four games they’ve lost.

Lawrence likely isn’t in for an easy time this week either. The Ravens’ overall pressure rate of 40.6% is tied for the highest in the NFL, and they’re far from a one-man show.

In the emergent Odafe Oweh (23.1%) and the resurgent Jadeveon Clowney (21.4), Baltimore sports the league’s lone tandem of edge rushers with pressure rates of at least 21% and pass-rush attempts of 150 or more.

Tackle Justin Madubuike is in the midst of a breakout year four season in which he’s produced 11 sacks, and he’s earned most of them too with a pressure rate of 16.8% that ranks fourth among interior linemen with at least 100 pass-rush snaps.

The Jaguars should be getting some good news on the injury front with the expected return of left tackle Walker Little, who missed the Cleveland game with a hamstring issue. Little’s pressure rate allowed of 6.9% is considerably above the league average of 9.8% for the position.

JAX Key: Fix the Pass Defense

Jacksonville has some repairs to make on the other side of the ball as well leading into a difficult encounter with a balanced Baltimore offense that stands third in our EVE rankings (efficiency vs. expected). More specifically, it needs to figure out a way of preventing opposing quarterbacks from firing at will like they’ve routinely done over the past month.

Over their last five games, the Jaguars have allowed a league-high completion rate of 71.5% along with an average of 8.6 yards per pass attempt (31st over that span), 11 touchdowns through the air and an opposing passer rating of 114.8 (also 31st). And the defense hasn’t been facing the cream of the quarterback crop for much of that stretch.

In his first NFL start, Cincinnati’s Jake Browning looked like a seasoned 16-year pro as he carved away at the Jags’ tattered secondary for 354 yards on 32-of-37 passing two weeks back. Then an actual seasoned 16-year pro, the 38-year-old Joe Flacco, discovered the Fountain of Youth by hanging 311 passing yards and three touchdowns on Jacksonville to lead the Browns to victory three weeks after being signed off the street. 

Blown assignments and missed tackles have been a major issue for the Jaguars during their defensive drop-off. They’ve allowed an open targeted receiver on 83.1% of opponent’s pass attempts over their last five games, which ranks 28th in the NFL since Week 10, and an average of 6.2 yards after the catch that’s 27th overall during that period.

Jacksonville also ranks 26th in burn-allowed rate since Week 10 at 52.5%. The Jaguars ranked fifth in that category from Weeks 1-9 at 43.9%.

Though the Ravens like to take shots downfield – Jackson’s 8.92 air yards per attempt is the fourth highest among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 200 adjusted passes this season – they’ve got the pieces in place to emulate what other teams have successfully done lately and pepper Jacksonville with underneath throws.

This looks like a potential dream matchup for impressive rookie receiver Zay Flowers, who’s been among the league’s best at getting open this season. Likewise for second-year tight end Isaiah Likely, who’s capably filled the void created by last month’s injury to star teammate Mark Andrews by hauling in nine of 13 targets for 123 yards and a touchdown over his last two games with over 75% of that yardage coming after the catch.

The Jaguars just let Cleveland tight end David Njoku run free for 91 yards and two touchdowns on six catches a week ago.

Jackson did struggle some in last season’s loss to Jacksonville, which was able to apply consistent heat on the dynamic quarterback and force him into a 15-for-30 passing day. But the Jags were one of the league’s best teams at pressuring the quarterback in 2022. That hasn’t been the case in 2023, as they’ve had trouble developing a steady complement to premier disruptor Josh Allen, who has accounted for half of the defense’s 27 sacks.

With the Jaguars likely to have their hands full with a Baltimore defense ranked No. 1 in EVE, it’s critical their own stop unit raises its level of play above how it’s performed the past two weeks.

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