Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore (10-6)
When Chargers have the ball
In each of the last three games, the Chargers’ initial possession ended in a Philip Rivers interception.One of those went to Baltimore cornerback Brandon Carr, setting up a field goal in the Ravens’ 22-10 victory 15 days ago. Rivers took the blame, saying all three were poor passes. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said the fault should be equally shared by all parties involved. Regardless, the Chargers must take better care of the ball in this rematch. So good at protecting the ball this season, they had nine turnovers and were minus-four in takeaways over the final three weeks of the regular season. They also will need to establish some semblance of a running game against a Baltimore defense that ranked No. 1 in yards allowed and No. 4 in yards rushing permitted. Chicago’s defense was the only one that gave up fewer points. In the teams’ first meeting, the Chargers gained only 51 yards on the ground in 16 attempts. Melvin Gordon had 41 of those yards, his second-worst single-game performance of 2018. Rivers just matched his second-best passer rating (105.5) for a season. The Ravens’ 80.6 defensive passer rating was second in the NFL, behind the Bears’ 72.9.
When Ravens have the ball
The history of the NFL doesn’t include many stories about a team making a quarterback change and then immediately beginning a surge toward the top of the standings because of a newfound rushing attack. But that’s the tale of 2018 Ravens, who used a time-swallowing ground game to help win six of seven to close the regular season as the AFC North champions. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has provided a spark that was missing before Joe Flacco was injured in a loss to Pittsburgh in Week 9. Jackson finished the regular season with 695 yards on 147 rushes. That total was second on the team, behind another rookie, Gus Edwards (718). The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 2 rushing attack — they easily would have been No. 1 had Jackson started all season — and amassed the second most yards on the ground in franchise history. The Chargers were ninth-best at stopping the run and tied for fifth in red-zone defense, suggesting this could be a bruising game, especially the nearer Baltimore gets to the end zone. All that being said, the Ravens’ winning touchdown last month against the Chargers came on a 68-yard pass, Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews.
When they kick
The closest thing to a playoff game that Chargers rookie placekicker Michael Badgley has played in recently was the 2017 ACC championship. His Miami Hurricanes lost to Clemson that day 38-3. Badgley made one of two kicks. So there’s that. Baltimore boasts the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Justin Tucker. He made 35 for 39 field goal attempts in the regular season, the misses coming from 53 and 65 yards. Two of his kicks were blocked. How consistent is Tucker? He just scored a franchise-record 141 points for the third consecutive season.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
The NFL is such a 50-50 league, the games so routinely decided by a few plays being made or not made, that common sense says the Chargers should win this time after the Ravens won two weeks ago. Simple percentages. But this might be the most difficult matchup the Chargers could have drawn. They never looked comfortable against Baltimore in Week 16 and at times appeared overwhelmed. This game should be low-scoring and defensive, which leans things in favor of the home team.