The Buffalo Bills (14-3) are set to host the Baltimore Ravens (12-5) on Saturday night after the two teams gutted out dramatic wins over the weekend. It was the first playoff win for the Bills since the 1995 season, and the first playoff win for the Ravens in the Lamar Jackson era. Let’s see their NFL odds.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills
Saturday, January 16, 2021 – 08:15 PM EDT at Bills Stadium
This should be a fantastic game and it has the smallest spread in this divisional round with the Bills as a 2-point favorite in a season where home-field advantage really does not matter. However, the Bills are 8-1 at home this year with only a loss to the Chiefs. Jackson is 16-3 as a road starter in his career, only losing twice in Kansas City and in New England in the rain this season.
The Ravens won 24-17 in Buffalo last season, but the Bills are a much better offensive team this time.
Two Great Teams
This is really the first time the Ravens and Bills have ever met where both teams had an exciting offense led by a franchise quarterback. Defense still plays a part in their success and it is what their head coaches are more comfortable with, but this game will likely come down to which young quarterback has the better night.
The question is will the game be as close as the spread suggests? Both of these teams are in elite company this year with the way they have won games.
The 2020 Ravens are only the 10th team since the 1970 merger to win at least nine games in the regular season by 14 or more points. Six of the first nine teams reached the Super Bowl. The 2020 Bills are the 22nd team since the merger to win six straight games by double digits. They were up 24-10 on the Colts in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but Indianapolis cut into the lead and only lost 27-24. A Hail Mary in Arizona is the only thing preventing the Bills from riding an 11-game winning streak into this matchup.
Both teams needed to prevent a late comeback attempt over the weekend. If this game comes down to that, then it is an area where Josh Allen has more of a track record than Jackson. Allen is 11-8 (.579) at game-winning drive opportunities in his career, the best win percentage among active quarterbacks. Jackson is 4-5 (.444) but has only won two games in his career after trailing in the fourth quarter. Buffalo led all teams with 144 points in the fourth quarter this season.
Both offenses do great things, but they have very different approaches to the game that should set up a memorable matchup.
Ravens: Faster Start Is Crucial
Baltimore avoided going 0-3 in the playoffs with Jackson in Tennessee, but the start of the game was not good again. Jackson threw an inaccurate pass that was intercepted in the first quarter and the Titans led 10-0. Jackson never had a lead in his first two playoff losses and had to always play from behind, which the Ravens are not set up well to do with the way they favor the run over the pass.
However, the Titans only scored three more points and the Ravens were able to work their way back to a 20-13 win, their first double-digit comeback win since Week 2 of the 2016 season, ending the longest drought in the NFL. The key to the comeback was Jackson’s brilliant 48-yard touchdown scramble on third down. He rushed for 136 yards in the game, easily outdoing his running backs’ 81 yards. Jackson has rushed for at least 80 yards in five of the six games since he returned from COVID to lead the team on this winning streak.
If the Ravens fall behind 10-0 in Buffalo, they cannot expect the defense to play a near-perfect game again to keep the score down. The Bills are a great offense, and this game should take a fair number of points to win. The Ravens must play better early in the game like they usually do.
In the regular season, Baltimore led the league with 118 first quarter points and a plus-69 scoring differential in the first quarter. Buffalo was third in differential at plus-41, so the Bills are used to good starts too. Both teams scored 265 points in the first half this year, only trailing Green Bay (299).
Will the start of this game involve snow? That is a possibility in the Buffalo forecast for Saturday night. Jackson has said he has zero experience in snow games, but it may not affect this offense as much as it would the Bills, the pass-happy offense in this matchup. If the footing is decent, then Jackson should still be able to run. We saw him Week 14 in Cleveland where his cleats repeatedly failed him as he kept slipping, and he still found a way to win that game 47-42 with 124 rushing yards.
When you look at Buffalo’s season, five games where they allowed over 160 rushing yards stand out as a concern for this matchup against the best rushing quarterback in NFL history. One is the only home loss when the Chiefs rushed for a season-high 245 yards, doing whatever they wanted to the Bills. Another is the last Buffalo loss in Arizona when the Cardinals had 217 yards, including 61 yards and two scores from Kyler Murray. The other three games were all Buffalo wins, but by only three points each. They blew a 25-point lead to the Rams before coming back late. They allowed a 100-yard rusher to the Patriots and Cam Newton did some damage before fumbling in the final seconds.
Finally, there was Saturday’s playoff game where the Colts rushed for 163 yards. Part of what made that fourth quarter interesting were the three runs of 20-plus yards that the Colts ripped off the left side of the defense. J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and of course Jackson himself either by design or scramble could do these things to this defense as well. While Buffalo’s defense was one of the best at getting takeaways this season, they had none against Philip Rivers and the Colts.
We also know the Ravens will not abandon the run and go pass-happy. Marquise Brown is the closest thing they have to a reliable wide receiver, while the Bills have Tre’Davious White at cornerback to keep him under control. Jackson is 26-1 (and 11-0 this season) when he attempts fewer than 28 passes, but 1-5 in his last six games when he goes over that mark.
Bills: Josh Allen vs. the Blitz
The Bills do not mind watching their quarterback run with the ball too, but the bigger emphasis is on Allen making magic. His accuracy and decision making have improved so much this year, which led to setting several franchise records. Against the Colts, Allen dropped back 48 times while only handing off to his running backs 10 times.
This is the offense the Bills want to run this year. One of the running backs, Zack Moss, is done for the postseason after suffering an ankle injury. That is unfortunate for him, but the Bills won’t miss a beat as Devin Singletary provides essentially the same impact for an offense driven by Allen and the wide receivers.
There were health concerns for the wideouts on Saturday, but Stefon Diggs looked quite healthy as he caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Cole Beasley managed to play despite a lot of attention to his leg and caught all seven of his targets for 57 yards in the slot. Gabriel Davis also showed a national audience that he is an excellent No. 4 wide receiver with incredible sideline catches on his way to 85 yards.
Those tough Davis catches were crucial in a first half where the Bills faced a lot of adversity, having to start five straight drives inside their own 15-yard line. While the Bills were the best offense in the regular season on third down, they were a season-worst 2-of-9 (22.2%) against the Colts. Still, the Bills found a way to score 27 points and Allen avoided any turnovers by recovering his fumble on a late sack that could have been disastrous.
It was a grind against a good Colts defense, but the Ravens offer a different challenge. Baltimore is the blitz-happiest defense in the league and has a great secondary with cornerbacks such as Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey and the ball-hawking Marcus Peters. The Colts were 31st in blitz rate and did not go after Allen much.
Allen has gotten used to the extra pressure as he was blitzed 39 more times than any quarterback in 2020. The Ravens will certainly come after him. When these teams met in December 2019, Allen was blitzed a career-high 31 times by Baltimore. He did not handle it well at all and finished that game 17-of-39 for 146 yards with six sacks after the Ravens registered 14 pressures on him. According to Pro Football Reference, Allen is 1-5 when he gets pressured at least 14 times in a game, though the only win was the only 2020 game on the list against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers love to blitz, but Allen handled that game better and overall has done an impressive job against all this blitzing in 2020. However, it is worth noting that the Pittsburgh game is the only time in the last nine games where the Buffalo offense was held under 27 points. If the Bills only score 20 points, that is likely a win for Baltimore as the Ravens have scored at least 20 points in 37 of Jackson’s 40 career starts.
Should this be a snow game, Allen’s strong arm should do wonders for him to cut the ball through the cold and wind. However, snow games are usually not conducive to precision-passing teams who barely run the ball and rely on their wide receivers to attack a great secondary. For a counterpoint, at least the snow could slow down the pass rush.
Baltimore’s defense allowed a league-low two 100-yard receivers this season, and none of the top 100 performances in receiving yards (including playoffs) came against the Ravens. Tennessee’s Corey Davis had 113 yards against the Ravens in Week 11, but he was held without a catch on Sunday.
For Allen to advance to his first AFC Championship Game, he will have to do his best Patrick Mahomes impersonation and tear this aggressive Baltimore defense apart when the blitz comes.
Since 1970, a two-point favorite in the NFL playoffs is 11-6 SU and 10-7 ATS. Most of those games saw the home team as the favorite, which is the case here with Buffalo. But you really have to consider how the old adage of home-field advantage equaling about three points in the spread is not applicable to this pandemic season without big crowds.
The home team was 2-4 on wild card weekend. For a larger sample size that excludes games involving Mitchell Trubisky’s Bears and the 7-9 Football Team, the home team was only 19-21 in games between teams that finished with a winning record in 2020. This trend actually started last year when home teams were 23-25 in such games a year after they were 36-26 in 2018. From 2001 to 2018, the home team won 59.1% of games between winning teams.
John Harbaugh has won eight road playoff games since 2008. No franchise in the NFL has a higher total than that since 1979. You could say the underdog role suits Harbaugh better in the playoffs where he is 4-3 ATS as a favorite and 8-3 ATS as an underdog.
I like the Ravens, with their better defense and Jackson’s unique rushing ability, to win this game in Buffalo. I would bet on their moneyline for my NFL picks this weekend.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.