Lamar Jackson’s 2023 MVP-caliber campaign is veiled in symbolism.
The quarterback for the Ravens is the epitome of what makes football great; he is a bumbling vortex that can leave opponents stumbling on the ground like cherry blossoms on a breezy spring day. With the ball in his hand, he’s a marksman, and sparks fly when it’s attached to his hip.
Jackson accounted for nearly 4,500 yards of total offense and 29 touchdowns while spearheading Baltimore’s attack. He left glittering masterpieces on the gridiron against both the 49ers and Dolphins, seemingly wrapping up most valuable play talk in the blink of an eye.
And his team — those mighty Ravens — is flying. Baltimore finished the regular season 13-4. It very well could have been better, too. Losses to the Bengals, Steelers (twice), and Browns were decided by a total of just 19 points.
The Ravens have dreams of a Lombardi Trophy. Jackson — the league’s most exciting talent — looks poised to play a central role in leading them there.
Every great journey begins with a step, though. For Baltimore, its pilgrimage starts with a flourish: a home match in the AFC divisional round.
Just who will the Ravens play, though? Here’s what you need to know.
Who do the Ravens play next?
The Ravens were rewarded for their performance on the field with preferential treatment off of it. Baltimore finished with a record of 13-4 on the season, not just good enough for best record in the league, but also providing John Harbaugh’s squad with a bye week and home-field advantage for the remainder of the playoffs.
When they come out of their bye week, they could be greeted by four different teams in the divisional round: the Texans, Browns, Steelers, and Dolphins.
Here’s the skinny on what would need to happen for each of these matchups to take place.
Baltimore would host fourth-seeded Houston in the divisional round if the fifth-seeded Dolphins and seventh-seeded Steelers dropped their wild-card matchups to the third-seeded Chiefs and second-seeded Bills, respectively.
The Ravens handled Stroud and Co. pretty comfortably back in Week 1, vanquishing them by a score of 25-9. That was then, this is now. Stroud was one of the league’s best quarterbacks this year and already showcased his big-game talent with a near-flawless display against the Colts in a de-facto playoff game in Week 18. Houston also possesses a glut of pass-rushing dynamos and run stuffers in its defensive line, options that could render Todd Monken’s offense ineffective on an off-day.
Off-days have been increasingly uncommon for Baltimore, however, and you’d figure that the Ravens would be favored heavily going into such an affair, especially one that pits one of the league’s best all-around units against a rookie signal-caller, even one as gifted as Stroud.
Baltimore would meet divisional rival Cleveland in the next round of the postseason if the No. 5-seeded Browns beat the No. 4-seeded Texans and the No. 5-seeded Dolphins and No. 7-seeded Steelers drop their matchups to the No. 3-seeded Chiefs and No. 2-seeded Bills, respectively.
The Browns could be a dangerous opponent for the Ravens. They’ve already seen John Harbaugh’s schemes twice this year and proved one of the only teams that can match Baltimore’s firepower on both sides of the ball en route to a 33-31 win back in Week 10.
Cleveland has one of the league’s most menacing defenses, spearheaded by Defensive Player of the Year hopeful Myles Garrett. It’s also receiving sizable production from Amari Cooper, David Njoku, and, most importantly, Joe Flacco, who has come off the couch to great applause since making his return to the league earlier in the season.
A duel between “Joe Cool” and Lamar seems almost inevitable at this point. If it were to happen, though, it could very well prove the Ravens’ toughest challenge.
The Ravens would face the No. 5-seeded Dolphins if Miami were to beat the No. 3-seeded Chiefs in Arrowhead and the No. 2-seeded Bills took care of business against the No. 7-seeded Steelers.
Miami has a whole lot of top-level talent. Raheem Mostert, De’Von Achane, Jaylen Waddle, and Tyreek Hill are about as imposing an offensive foundation as you’ll see in the NFL today. The Fins are also well-drilled. Mike McDaniel never fails to ready the troops with intricate game plans ahead of their matchups.
Still, it’s hard to look past Baltimore’s 56-19 drubbing of the Dolphins just a few weeks earlier. You’d have to imagine McDaniel and Co. learned a thing or two from such a beatdown, but the Ravens are well-designed to open up holes across Miami’s roster. With the Fins looking increasingly thin in the edge rushing and pass coverage departments, it could be one game too much for the Dolphins.
Baltimore would take on the No. 7 Pittsburgh in the divisional round if the Steelers shock second-seeded Buffalo.
You can never count out a Mike Tomlin-coached team, even one hacked away by key injuries. The Steelers tend to find a way to compete against Jackson-led offenses, as they’ve defeated the Ravens in seven of their last eight trips to M&T Bank Stadium.
However, Pittsburgh is reeling. T.J. Watt (knee) could very well miss out on the trek to Charm City, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll likely be significantly limited due to his MCL sprain.
Mason Rudolph shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Baltimore’s frenzied defense, and if the Ravens can stop the run game in any sort of capacity, it could be a long day for Tomlin and Co.