Can Jack­son win the MVP?

Time to go on record with ques­tions on fans’ minds

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NFL -

The Bal­ti­more Sun’s sports staff ad­dresses ques­tions sure to be on most fans’ minds this week after the Ravens’ took down the un­de­feated Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day.

Will the Ravens get a first-round bye in the play­offs?

Jen Badie, ed­i­tor: Un­likely. It’s of course not out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity, with the Ravens jock­ey­ing for the No. 2 seed with the Kansas City Chiefs and Hous­ton Tex­ans (as­sum­ing the Pa­tri­ots don’t lose grasp of No. 1). But the Ravens face a dif­fi­cult sec­ond-half sched­ule, and I think most fans would be happy with a home game.

C.J. Doon, ed­i­tor: After Sun­day’s big win, it looks more likely. While the Ravens (6-2) might not be able to catch the Pa­tri­ots (8-1) for the top seed, they’re lead­ing the Chiefs (6-3) and Tex­ans (6-3) for that cov­eted sec­ond seed. How im­por­tant would that be? Since the Ravens won the Su­per Bowl as the No. 4 seed at the end of the 2012 sea­son, all of the Su­per Bowl par­tic­i­pants have been either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Over that time, just five teams (2013 49ers, 2014 Colts, 2016 Packers and Steelers, 2017 Jaguars) that played on wild-card week­end made it to the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game.

Daniel Oye­fusi, re­porter: This is tough, since the Ravens are es­sen­tially bat­tling the Kansas City Chiefs and Hous­ton Tex­ans for the No. 2 seed, un­less the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots re­ally slip in the sec­ond half of the sea­son. The Ravens al­ready lost to Kansas City and still have a matchup with the Tex­ans up­com­ing but I’ll say yes, es­pe­cially if they can beat Hous­ton in two weeks. Mike Pre­ston, colum­nist: It is way to early to ask that ques­tion, but they should get a first-round play­off game at home. The Ravens should win the AFC North and they are get­ting bet­ter. Pitts­burgh is two games back but the Steelers are just in sur­vival mode. They still don’t have a quar­ter­back. Jonas Shaf­fer, re­porter: No. The sec­ond­half sched­ule is too chal­leng­ing, and with the head start New Eng­land got and Patrick Ma­homes’ loom­ing re­turn to Kansas City, the Ravens face a tough road to a top-two seed.

Peter Sch­muck, colum­nist: The Ravens have a very good chance of get­ting a play­off bye if they keep the pedal to the metal and win all of the games they are sup­posed to win. That’s a big if in the un­pre­dictable NFL, but they seem so be get­ting bet­ter each week, par­tic­u­larly on de­fense.

Childs Walker, re­porter: No. They’ll be in the run­ning, but the Kansas City Chiefs have weath­ered a stretch with­out quar­ter­back Patrick Ma­homes, and they hold a tiebreaker ad­van­tage based on their Week 3 vic­tory over the Ravens. The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots will take the No. 1 seed as they feast on an easy string of op­po­nents over the last three weeks.

Did Sun­day’s win change your mind about the Ravens’ ceil­ing this sea­son? Badie: Be­fore Sun­day, I thought they could make it to at least a di­vi­sional round game. But if the Ravens can beat the Pa­tri­ots, they re­ally can beat any­one. Let’s try not to get ahead of our­selves — but if they can play the way they did Sun­day, I could see the Ravens mak­ing it to the AFC Cham­pi­onship game. Doon: Yes, and for the rea­sons I stated above. Not only did the Ravens prove that they could beat the best or­ga­ni­za­tion of the mod­ern era — and one of the best sta­tis­ti­cal de­fenses in re­cent mem­ory — but they put them­selves in po­si­tion for a valu­able first-round bye. That would dras­ti­cally in­crease their chances of mak­ing it to the AFC cham­pi­onship game and, per­haps, the Su­per Bowl.

Oye­fusi: I was sold on this team as con­tenders after the Seat­tle win, and I thought they were a re­ally good matchup for New Eng­land. The Ravens have al­ready proven they can com­pete with any team in the league. Now it’s just a mat­ter of see­ing if they can sus­tain this level of play through the sec­ond half of sea­son and into a deep play­off run.

Pre­ston: Yes. I don’t con­sider them a one-and-done team in the post­sea­son any­more. They are as ca­pa­ble as the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots or the Kansas City Chiefs.

Shaf­fer: It con­firmed that they can be a re­ally, re­ally good team. But as we’ve seen from the Ravens’ oc­ca­sional strug­gles this sea­son, a qual­ity de­fen­sive line can hand­i­cap their of­fen­sive suc­cess. The de­fense’s con­sis­tent play has been the most sig­nif­i­cant change in their re­cent surge. Sch­muck: Ab­so­lutely, The Ravens just beat two of the best teams in the NFL and they lost a close one to the Chiefs on the road. They have proven that they can beat any­body. Doesn’t mean they’re headed for the Su­per Bowl, but Sun­day night’s re­sound­ing vic­tory proves that it’s not out of the ques­tion.

Walker: Slightly. We didn’t learn any­thing new, but they proved their run­ning game will work against the best de­fen­sive game­plan­ner in the sport.

Can La­mar Jack­son ac­tu­ally win MVP? Badie: It cer­tainly seems pos­si­ble at this junc­ture (and com­ing off a win in which even Bill Belichick couldn’t find a way to stop him). Jack­son is lead­ing the No. 2 of­fense in the league. He ranks No. 11 in rush­ing with 637 yards and is on pace to rush for over 1,200 yards (which would break Michael Vick’s sin­gle-sea­son record). He can change the game with his arm or his legs. Even if he doesn’t win MVP, it’s fun to have a Ravens quar­ter­back in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Doon: Of course. MVP is largely a nar­ra­tive award, and who had a bet­ter story this year than Jack­son? He’s be­come a star, and he just beat Rus­sell Wil­son and Tom Brady. He’s one of the best ath­letes to ever play quar­ter­back, and he con­tin­ues to do things on the field we’ve never seen be­fore. Wil­son’s num­bers might be bet­ter, but no­body is hav­ing the kind of im­pact on the league that Jack­son is.

Oye­fusi: Well, the odds say he’s right up there. He has a cou­ple more mar­quee matchups in the team’s fi­nal eight games, in­clud­ing Nov. 17 against the Tex­ans and fel­low MVP can­di­date De­shaun Wat­son. If he can out­duel Wat­son and keep the Ravens in the run­ning for a top-two seed in the AFC, it’s def­i­nitely a pos­si­bil­ity.

Pre­ston: Ask me that in De­cem­ber. Right now, I’m with Jack­son; just win games. Shaf­fer: He’s on pace for close to 5,000 to­tal yards, and his team is close to run­ning away with a sec­ond straight di­vi­sion ti­tle. There are quar­ter­backs with less im­pres­sive cre­den­tials who’ve won.

Sch­muck: Yes, but he’ll have to keep putting up big rush­ing and pass­ing num­bers against teams that are go­ing to work very hard to find a way to stop him. He’ll also have to stay healthy, so he’ll need to pick some spots to pro­tect him­self and con­serve his legs over the course of the sec­ond half of the sched­ule.

Walker: Yes, he has sev­eral fac­tors go­ing for him. He pro­duces ev­ery week be­cause of his unique run­ning abil­ity. He’s the cen­ter­piece of a likely play­off team that has ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions. And he brings ex­tra siz­zle be­cause he’s a new and dif­fer­ent star.

Should the Ravens be wor­ried about the Steelers (4-4) at all?

Badie: Prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit. Even with­out Ben Roeth­lis­berger, the Steelers are on a three-game win­ning streak. And they have a fairly weak sched­ule in the sec­ond half: They play the Browns twice, the Bengals, Cardinals and Jets. Of the teams they’ll face, only the Rams, Bills and Ravens have win­ning records.

Doon: Prob­a­bly not, though the win over the Colts on Sun­day was im­pres­sive. Ma­son Ru­dolph is hold­ing his own at quar­ter­back, and safety Minkah Fitz­patrick looks like the dif­fer­ence-maker the Steelers ex­pected him to be when they traded a first-round draft pick for him. The Steelers have a much eas­ier sched­ule down the stretch than the Ravens, but a two-game lead at the mid­way point should be enough.

Oye­fusi: There’s still eight games left in the sea­son, so you can’t rule any­thing out. But I have a hard time be­liev­ing the Steelers will be able to muster 10 or 11 wins, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing Pitts­burgh al­ready lost once to the Ravens and have to visit Bal­ti­more in Week 17.

Pre­ston: Wor­ried? No. Con­cerned? Yes. Pitts­burgh has one of the best head coaches in the NFL in Mike Tom­lin and the Steelers might have the best or­ga­ni­za­tion in the NFL. I would never count them out. Shaf­fer: It’d be more con­cern­ing for the Ravens if a po­ten­tially de­ci­sive re­match was set for Pitts­burgh. But the Ravens al­ready won at Heinz Field, and on a bad day from La­mar Jack­son. Even with Mike Tom­lin’s track record, the Ravens should feel good. Sch­muck: Maybe. The Steelers have a much lighter sched­ule the rest of the way, but the Ravens are two games ahead and have al­ready beaten them on the road. Ma­son Ru­dolph has per­formed well in the ab­sence of Ben Roeth­lis­berger and has kept the Steelers from fall­ing out of the hunt, but the Ravens clearly are the bet­ter team. Walker: Slightly, be­cause the Steelers have an eas­ier sched­ule the rest of the way and al­ways prove re­silient un­der coach Mike Tom­lin. But the Ravens are a bet­ter team, have a two-game lead and al­ready hold a road vic­tory over their arch-neme­sis. So they’re in the driver’s seat.

GAIL BUR­TON/AP

Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son ges­tures after scor­ing a touch­down dur­ing the first half Nov. 3 in Bal­ti­more.

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