GAME PREDICTIONS

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NFL analysts | Bills vs. Ravens game predictions | Divisional playoff round

Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) interception celebration. Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens game at New Era Field on December 8, 2019. Photo by Craig Melvin
Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) interception celebration. Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens game at New Era Field on December 8, 2019. Photo by Craig Melvin

MDS's take: Over the last several weeks, the Bills may be playing better than any team in the NFL. The Ravens are playing good football at the right time, too, but I don't think I'd pick anyone to go to Buffalo and beat the Bills right now.

MDS's pick: Bills 27, Ravens 20.

Florio's take: The Ravens continue to be the hottest team in the NFL, and the Bills had a near miss against the Colts. Baltimore can run the ball very well, and the Bills can't. That could be the difference, especially if it snows.

Florio's pick: Ravens 24, Bills 21.

This is the best game of the week because of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, two quarterbacks backed by two rosters ready to win the Super Bowl right now.

While recency bias may be at play here, my slight edge goes to the Ravens because the Bills defense that showed up in the Wild Card Round looked too much like the Bills defense from the first half of the season. The Bills have given up more than 200 rushing yards twice this year and seven times since Sean McDermott took over. Indianapolis had chances to win last week because Buffalo's defense was overwhelmed by a cohesive rushing attack that got to the outside in key moments.

Baltimore's defense, meanwhile, is peaking. The Ravens won't be able to blitz Allen into submission like they did late last regular season, but even a handful of negative plays and a turnover would be enough in a game unlikely to feature many defensive stops. Buffalo's pass rush is also unlikely to bother Jackson, putting too much pressure on linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to constantly save the day.

Allen is the X-factor. In a quarterback league, no one is playing better. Even if the Ravens have the right game plan, he can make plays that are impossible to defend outside the pocket. The same could be said about Jackson, even if the Ravens' passing game is more sporadic. This may be the best matchup of young, mobile quarterbacks in NFL playoff history, and I'm just thrilled to watch it no matter what happens.

Baltimore Ravens 30, Buffalo Bills 28

This will be a battle of two star quarterbacks, one who runs it as well as anybody ever has from the position in Lamar Jackson, and the other in Josh Allen, who has been outstanding throwing it this season. The Ravens will make no bones about what they want to do on offense, which is to pound it. They are averaging 262 rushing yards a game in their last six games. The Bills have improved against the run from earlier in the year, but this will be a big challenge. The strategy from coordinator Leslie Frazier will be something to watch in terms of trying to keep Jackson contained. The Ravens defense is back healthy now, which is why they impressed last week against the Titans. But this is a bigger challenge in facing Allen. This will be a close game, but in the end I think Allen will make the game-winning plays late to pull it out -- but it will be razor-thin close. 

Pick: Bills 27, Ravens 26

These teams last met during the 2019 regular season, a 24-17 Ravens win in Buffalo, and you can expect Baltimore to go with a similar defensive game plan this time around. Baltimore's defense blitzed Bills quarterback Josh Allen on 32 of his 46 drop-backs, sacking him six times in that game. The Ravens led the league in blitz rate in 2020, bringing an extra man to pursue the quarterback 44 percent of the time.

However, Allen has improved significantly against the blitz this season, completing 66 percent of his passes and averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. His sack rate when blitzed has also plummeted from 10 percent in 2019 to four percent in 2020, including last week's playoff win over the Colts. His passer rating against the blitz, meanwhile, has jumped from 78.4 to 111.6 in one season.

Pick: Buffalo Bills -2½

The Ravens have not lost a game since Dec. 2. The Bills have not lost one since Nov. 15. Both have weatherproof offenses and defenses capable of game-changing plays. And both overcame some psychological weight in the wild-card round — Buffalo got its first postseason victory since the 1995 season; Lamar Jackson of the Ravens won a playoff game for the first time.

There are myriad reasons to pull for both teams — and a persistent belief that either team advancing is just signing up to lose to Kansas City in the next round — but it is hard to believe that Buffalo, even at home, can slow Baltimore's juggernaut running game.

When the Ravens hit the "reset button" after a midseason lull, the team focused nearly all of its attack on the running of quarterback Lamar Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. That led to Baltimore's rushing for 230 or more yards in four of its final five games of the regular season, including a ludicrous 404 — the fifth-most rushing yards in N.F.L. history — in a Week 17 win over Cincinnati. That kept up in the wild-card round, with the Ravens running for 236 yards.

Buffalo ranked 17th in run defense this season, but that ranking would have been worse had teams not been forced to pass to keep up with the Bills' electric offense. That shows up in the fact that Buffalo ranked among the N.F.L.'s six worst run defenses in yards per carry (4.6) and rushing touchdowns allowed (21).

The Bills' defense has several players capable of serious disruption, but much of that comes in the secondary. On a chilly day in Orchard Park, N.Y., the Ravens could focus on running the ball, and it is hard to see the Bills being able to stop them. Buffalo's offense can't be counted out, even against a solid Ravens defense, but Baltimore should control the clock and the game. 

Pick: Ravens

This game will live up to the billing of being a dynamic passing and running duel between 2018 first-round quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. The Bills' defensive weakness is against the run, which will allow Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to get going between the tackles and around the edges. The Ravens are solid against the run but, despite some having some good, experienced pass rushers and cornerbacks, they have lapses in pressure and coverage, which can expose them further with their frequent blitzes.

Jackson will do plenty of damage on the ground and Allen will have his share of key physical runs. It will come down to which quarterback can make a few more big pass plays off script. Jackson will see Tre'Davious White contain Marquise Brown, left leaning mostly on tight end Mark Andrews in a great matchup. The difference will be the Bills' Stefon Diggs, who can consistently get the better of Marcus Peters outside to boost Allen.

Pick: Bills win 27-24

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