Can Jackson win the MVP?
Time to go on record with questions on fans’ minds
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.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson gestures after scoring a touchdown during the first half Nov. 3 in Baltimore.