Home Sports Dolphins-Ravens preview: Match-ups, X-factors, stats to know

Dolphins-Ravens preview: Match-ups, X-factors, stats to know

Dolphins-Ravens preview: Match-ups, X-factors, stats to know

BALTIMORE — When the Miami Dolphins returned to their team facility this week, they wondered what they did for Christmas and headed to their meeting rooms.

There was no talk of playoff scenarios ahead of a showdown between the AFC’s top teams on Sunday, when the Ravens (12-3) host the Dolphins (11-4) at M&T Bank Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“We understand what’s at stake,” Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “I think if you overdo it, you might get to a point where you start chasing ghosts in a way.

“Whereas if you study the way you study and do things the way you’ve done them, and if you just add a little bit each time, we could eventually be the team we’ve always wanted since training camp .”

This is the fourth time in the last 30 seasons that the top two teams in the same conference will meet in the final two weeks of the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Baltimore, which has won five straight and is a 3.5-point favorite, can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed, secure a first-round bye and secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by beating the Dolphins. The Ravens have won first place in the AFC once in their 27-year history.

Miami can overtake the Ravens for the No. 1 seed by winning its final two games. The Dolphins host the Buffalo Bills in the regular season finale.

“It’s an exciting situation,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re getting to that time of year, [and] you play yourself in this type of game where you have an opportunity where the game matters so much, where winning a game brings such a great reward because of what you have done so far.

“It’s a deserved thing, and the Dolphins deserved the same thing. So it’s that kind of game.”

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques explain why each team is a strong bet to win on Sunday, and provide vulnerability and an X-factor.

Why Every Team Is a Strong Bet to Win

Crows: Lamar Jackson. The betting favorite for NFL MVP, Jackson has wanted the Ravens to have wins this season, whether it’s avoiding passers to buy more time to throw or running for a big play.

Jackson has Baltimore averaging 30.1 points over his last nine games, despite missing its most explosive running backs (JK Dobbins and Keaton Mitchell) and its most productive target (tight end Mark Andrews). Plus, Jackson has been perfect at M&T Bank Stadium this time of year. He is 9-0 at home in December in his career, which is the most home wins without a loss in the final month of a calendar year since 1950, according to the Elias Sports Bureau . –Hensley

Dolphins: Offense. The Dolphins have the highest scoring offense in the NFL at 30.9 points per game. They also lead the league with 411.5 yards per game, 275.1 passing yards per game and 4.98 rushing yards per play.

When fully healthy, this offense has four players capable of scoring from anywhere on the court – Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert – but that’s not the only reason why Miami is a real threat in the AFC. .

The Dolphins defense ranks top five in yards allowed per game (fourth with 296.5), rushing yards allowed per game (fifth with 90.8) and sacks per pass attempt. They trail only the Ravens in total sacks (54-52), which is impressive considering Miami’s leading passer, Jaelan Phillips, tore an Achilles tendon in Week 12.

This is a complete team that has proven itself on both sides of the ball. –Louis-Jacques

Why every team is vulnerable

Crows: The ground game. Stopping the run is the one area where Baltimore’s defense hasn’t dominated. In three losses, the Ravens have given up an average of 134.6 yards rushing.

Baltimore has allowed two 100-yard rushers (Kyren Williams of the Los Angeles Rams and Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers) in its last three games.

The Dolphins are fifth in the NFL with 136.4 rushing yards per game.

On offense, the Ravens lead the NFL in rushing, but they haven’t gotten much out of the ground game lately outside of Jackson. Current running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill have averaged 3.6 yards per carry over the last six games. It was tough at times running out of time in the fourth quarter. –Hensley

Dolphins: The injuries start to pile up. Thursday’s news that Waddle is not expected to play due to a sprained ankle is a major blow. Waddle has 1,014 receiving yards and he caught 11 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns against the Ravens last season.

Safety Jevon Holland hasn’t played since Week 12 due to MCL sprains in both knees, although he has participated more in practice since Wednesday. Right guard Robert Hunt hasn’t played since Week 13 due to a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, left guard Isaiah Wynn remains on injured reserve with a quad injury, center Connor Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL and right tackle Austin Jackson is battling with an oblique injury .

Injuries aside, three of Miami’s four losses have come on the road, all against opponents with a winning record. Although beating the Cowboys last week helped block the narrative that Miami can’t beat teams with winning records, the Dolphins need to prove they can win away from South Florida. If won, it would be the first time in franchise history that the Dolphins have beaten 10-win teams in consecutive weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. –Louis-Jacques

Best match to watch

Crows: Tagovailoa and Hill against Ravens secondary. Tagovailoa leads the NFL in completions (18) and touchdown passes (nine) on throws that travel at least 25 yards through the air. Hill caught seven of those touchdown passes, more than double any other player this season on such throws.

The Ravens have ranked among the best against passes since allowing Hill to catch touchdown passes of 48 and 60 yards during last season’s fourth-quarter collapse. Since that Week 2 loss to Miami, Baltimore has held teams to 34 touchdown passes, which is the third-fewest touchdown passes in the NFL.

“Obviously it was a tough pill for us to swallow,” Harbaugh said. “[But] we learned a lot about ourselves [and] our blankets. » –Hensley

Dolphins: The Dolphins offensive line versus Baltimore’s front seven. Baltimore leads the NFL in sacks, and Miami’s battered offensive line will face its toughest task of the season.

Besides adequate pass protection, Miami will rely on a strong running game to keep Tagovailoa upright. Mostert leads the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns and could become the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 to score more than 20 rushing touchdowns in a season.

If Baltimore is going to respect the threat of a run, its front seven can’t just focus on putting pressure on Jackson. –Louis-Jacques

X factors

Crows: Sales figures. The Ravens forced an NFL-high 26 turnovers — their most in six years — including five interceptions in Monday’s win at San Francisco.

Baltimore’s plus-10 turnover differential is tied for best in the league with the Steelers and Buccaneers. The Ravens have scored 91 takeaways this season, which ranks second behind Miami (99 takeaways).

Ball security was key to Baltimore’s end to the season. During their five-game winning streak, no team has turned the ball over less than the Ravens. The Ravens had two giveaways in 332 offensive plays (Jackson threw two interceptions). –Hensley

Dolphins: De’Von Achane. Against that pass rush, the rookie could provide an explosive safety valve out of the backfield. Especially with Waddle’s status unknown, Miami could use every home run hitter possible on Sunday.

Since returning from a knee injury in Week 13, Achane has managed 100 yards from scrimmage just once, despite having double-digit touchdowns in three of four games.

He averaged 11.5 yards per touch on 45 touches during his explosive three-game stretch from Week 3 to Week 5, but that’s an unreasonable number to expect from a running back. However, this is an example of what the third-round pick can accomplish. –Louis-Jacques


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