In Week 3, the Baltimore Ravens gave up 503 yards and 33 points to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The following week, at home, they allowed 530 yards and 40 points to the Cleveland Browns. Unlike the Chiefs, the Browns are not good on offense. They are averaging 322.1 yards and 16.9 points if you take out that Ravens game.
During that stretch it looked like the Ravens weren’t much different than the Chiefs. They had an MVP-level quarterback in Lamar Jackson and an offense that has been an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. But the defense looked lackluster.
That’s not the case anymore. Ask Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
A stunning 41-7 win over the first-place Texans on Sunday made it clear that the Ravens have a dangerous offense with an MVP candidate at quarterback and a very good defense.
There were signs of that before Sunday. The Ravens made life difficult on the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, though the Patriots aren’t a juggernaut on offense. Most of the Ravens’ other opponents have been bad. It was hard to get a read on the Ravens defense.
Sunday was a statement. Watson was 18-of-29 for 169 yards and an interception. Watson had never been shut out in the first half of any pro or college game. The Texans’ only touchdown came in the fourth quarter after the Ravens had taken a 34-0 lead. The Ravens swarmed Watson and made life miserable for him. The Texans’ offensive line is suspect, but that’s nothing new and Watson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL despite that line. Against Baltimore, Watson didn’t do anything.
Baltimore’s Oct. 15 trade with the Rams for cornerback Marcus Peters has made a huge difference. Since the trade, Peters is the third-highest graded cornerback in the NFL among those who have played at least 150 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. When Peters was on DeAndre Hopkins, Hopkins was targeted four times and allowed only 24 yards on two catches via PFF. He also broke up a key fourth-down pass to Hopkins. Peters is volatile but at his best he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s the player the Ravens got in the trade.
The Ravens have a great set of corners in Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Peters. New safety Earl Thomas should end up in the Hall of Fame someday. Nose tackle Brandon Williams, who missed the Browns game and drew the ire of Thomas, is one of the best run defenders in the NFL. Others like linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Matt Judon have played well. Whatever happened in those games against the Chiefs and Browns, the Ravens have a top-end defense. They proved that against Watson and the Texans.
If the defense continues to play at a high level and Jackson doesn’t wear down, the Ravens have the balance to win a Super Bowl. Though the Patriots will still have a big say in that.
Here are the Power Rankings after Week 11 of the NFL season:
32. Cincinnati Bengals (0-10, Last Week: 32)
The Bengals might have won on Sunday with Andy Dalton at quarterback. Maybe it matters to get one win and avoid 0-16, maybe it doesn’t. But making the switch to rookie quarterback Ryan Finley so early put the Bengals in much more danger of that 0-16 infamy.
31. Washington Redskins (1-9, LW: 31)
Offensive tackle Morgan Moses explained the viral video of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins asking his offensive linemen what he could do to help them, while the linemen were seemingly disinterested. Moses thought Haskins was genuinely asking, because the Jets were running exotic defensive looks at the rookie. "To give credit to the kid, he's a hell of a football player," Moses said, according to NBC Sports Washington. "He's in there willing to learn, he wants to learn, he wants to be great. He's playing through a lot of things that normal quarterbacks, rookie quarterbacks don't play through. His head coach got fired after a couple of weeks, and things like that. For him, he's just trying to find his way. We just have to do a better job of helping him find his way as well."
30. New York Giants (2-8, LW: 30)
Rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence has been a highlight. He ranks 12th in Pro Football Focus’ grades for interior defensive linemen. He has been exceptional against the run, ranking fifth among all interior linemen with at least 230 snaps. The 17th pick of the draft looks like a nice hit for the Giants.
29. Miami Dolphins (2-8, LW: 28)
Kalen Ballage had 9 yards on 9 carries on Sunday, dropping his yards per carry average to a woeful 1.91 yards per carry. He has 64 carries this season and not one run over 8 yards. On top of that, he has just 50 yards on 13 receptions. The Dolphins offensive line is bad, but Ballage’s numbers are still stunning.
28. New York Jets (3-7, LW: 29)
It was just the Redskins, but Sam Darnold threw for 293 yards and four touchdowns. He looked as good as he has all season. He’ll still needs to play well against better competition, but he can lay a nice foundation for 2020 with a strong finish.
27. Denver Broncos (3-7, LW: 26)
Giving away a 20-0 halftime lead was awful, but Brandon Allen had a decent follow-up to his first start. He made some clutch throws to get the Broncos in position to win at the end, but three passes into the end zone in the final seconds didn’t connect. The Broncos probably still will want to take a long look at second-round pick Drew Lock when he’s ready, but Allen has been OK.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1, LW: 25)
The Cardinals acquitted themselves well in San Francisco against a good team. This was a truly bad team last season. Arizona isn’t going to have a great record, but it’s clear there is progress with coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. There are still a lot of things the Cardinals need to fix, but this was never going to be a one-year turnaround.
25. Atlanta Falcons (3-7, LW: 27)
None of this really makes much sense. The Falcons were horrendous on defense for most of the first half of the season. Starting with halftime of their eighth game, they haven’t allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters. Dan Quinn giving off defensive play-calling duties has played a role, but it’s not like the scheme changed.
“We are running the same defenses,” Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver told Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Nothing has changed. It’s just working better, honestly. Guys are communicating more. We are getting more urgent and getting to the ball quicker.
“But in terms of the scheme? Everything is the same.”
The Falcons’ defensive transformation is one of the more inexplicable in-season things you’ll find.
24. Detroit Lions (3-6-1, LW: 23)
Jeff Driskel played fine. The Lions had 27 points. It wasn’t the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but you can’t expect much more out of a backup quarterback. The problem is the defense gave up 509 yards, including 444 passing yards to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. It’s troubling how bad the Lions defense is this season.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7, LW: 22)
Just when it seemed O.J. Howard might save a rough season, he had a bad drop that somehow turned into an interception off of his back. He didn’t see a target the rest of the day, while fellow tight end Cameron Brate caught 10 of 14 targets. It’s a lost season for Howard, a former first-round pick, he has fallen totally out of favor with a new coaching staff and maybe a change of scenery in the offseason is best for everyone.
22. Cleveland Browns (4-6, LW: 24)
You can’t really get away from the Myles Garrett incident when you talk about this team. From a football aspect the Browns actually gave themselves an outside shot of getting back in the playoff race, but that is a lot tougher without their best defensive player the rest of the year.
21. Chicago Bears (4-6, LW: 19)
I think I believe the Bears when they say Mitchell Trubisky’s hip was hurting. It’s also hard to believe he would have come out of the game under better circumstances. He is having a bad season and that had to make it easier to pull him when the Bears did. The injury report this week will be pretty interesting though.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (4-7, LW: 21)
That final interception from Philip Rivers was brutal. He had four interceptions on Monday night. We all know he’s nearing the end, and maybe more quickly than we expected.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6, LW: 18)
D.J. Chark has been really good. His 51-796-8 line, mostly playing with a rookie quarterback, stacks up with anyone. He is second in the AFC in receiving yards, only 9 yards behind fellow breakout receiver Courtland Sutton of Denver. And Chark has twice as many touchdowns as Sutton. He’d be an easy Pro Bowl pick if the season ended today.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5, LW: 14)
Lost in the Mason Rudolph-Myles Garrett hoopla is that the Steelers offense really looked bad last Thursday night. James Conner injured his shoulder again, and receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson left with concussions. The Steelers have been grinding out wins with a limited offense, and they clearly couldn’t afford those kinds of personnel losses.
17. Tennessee Titans (5-5, LW: 20)
We spent a lot of time in the offseason wondering if Marcus Mariota would get an extension. Now we should wonder if Ryan Tannehill will get that extension. On the plus side, he has a high draft pedigree, did have his moments with the Dolphins and has played pretty well since replacing Mariota. But Tannehill, in a contract year, will be 32 next season and has never been a high-end starter. What’s the market for that?
16. Carolina Panthers (5-5, LW: 16)
Owner David Tepper said Monday that the team would wait until Cam Newton is healthy to make a decision on his future. That’s prudent. But it doesn’t seem like much of a choice now that Kyle Allen has come back to earth. Yes, the Panthers would save $19 million in cap space. But you don’t give up former MVP quarterbacks who just turned 30 over $19 million in cap space.
15. Indianapolis Colts (6-4, LW: 17)
Jacoby Brissett’s fourth-down scramble and touchdown pass, considering his knee injury, was really impressive. That was the turning point of a huge win against the Jaguars. It’ll be tough to win Thursday, especially without Marlon Mack, but the Colts could take a huge step to a division title if they can pull it off.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5, LW: 12)
It wasn’t ideal to lose a game in the standings to the Cowboys, but let’s take a step back. Losing to the Patriots, even at home, was expected. The Eagles still have the easier schedule than Dallas. If the Eagles win the games they should, they should be in position to win the NFC East with a home win over Dallas in Week 16. Next week’s home game against Seattle is crucial though.
13. Los Angeles Rams (6-4, LW: 15)
Good coaches understand what they need to do to win a game and call it accordingly. In that sense, it makes sense the Rams barely threw the ball on Sunday night. They knew the Bears couldn’t score. But it still has to say something about Jared Goff that the Rams had no interest in dropping him back to throw.
12. Oakland Raiders (6-4, LW: 13)
The Raiders’ draft has been the difference in them being a playoff contender. It hasn’t been perfect — aside from one big game from Clelin Ferrell, Ferrell over Josh Allen still looks dubious — but the Raiders have gotten contributions from many rookies this season. Given that GM Mike Mayock’s fingerprints seemed to be all over the draft, give him some credit. And credit Jon Gruden too, since he has ultimate power in the organization.
11. Houston Texans (6-4, LW: 8)
Everything is probably fine if the Texans beat the Colts on Thursday. They’ll then be the favorite in the AFC South with five games left. But what happened to the offense in Baltimore? No matter if the Ravens are on a roll, it was still shocking to see an offense with Deshaun Watson get nothing going. Maybe they were looking ahead. We’ll probably find out Thursday.
10. Buffalo Bills (7-3, LW: 11)
The Bills had seven sacks against Miami, and no player had more than one. The Bills are tied for ninth in the NFL with 29 sacks, and it has been mostly spread out all season. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips has a surprising seven sacks (he had 5.5 in his first four seasons) and nobody else has four. This is a deep defense that probably doesn’t have an All-Pro candidate — unless cornerback Tre’Davious White gets some late buzz — but it doesn’t have a weakness either.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-4, LW: 10)
At some point, it’s disingenuous to say every player having a good season is an MVP candidate. Would some of these fringe candidates have any real argument against Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson? No. But maybe Dak Prescott does. He leads the NFL in passing yards and has a 104.1 rating. His nine interceptions might end the conversation, considering Wilson has a 23-2 TD-INT ratio, but it doesn’t seem crazy to have Prescott somewhere on the MVP list. Prescott has been very good.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, LW: 9)
Tyreek Hill, LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams all left Monday night’s game with injuries. The Chiefs will be happy to book their win and get back home.
7. Minnesota Vikings (8-3, LW: 7)
Getting back to the conversation about who deserves to be an MVP candidate, Kirk Cousins has gotten himself on the list. He’s fifth in the NFL in passing yards despite a run-heavy offense. He has a 21-3 TD-INT ratio and his 114.8 passer rating is right behind Russell Wilson’s 114.9. Cousins was also huge in bringing the Vikings back from a 20-0 halftime deficit. Over the past five season, including playoffs, teams trailing by 20 or more at halftime were 0-99. If you took out all of the preconceived notions and judged only this season, Cousins is an MVP candidate. And if he carries the Vikings past the Packers in the NFC North? Then it becomes a very real conversation.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-2, LW: 6)
The Packers had to hate the Broncos by Sunday afternoon. A Broncos win over the Vikings would have been huge for Green Bay. The Packers are still ranked ahead of the Vikings but to be honest, the Vikings might be the better team right now. Either way, that Week 16 Monday night game in Minnesota will feel like a playoff game.
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-2, LW: 5)
The bye came at a good time, especially with Tyler Lockett’s injury. Like the Packers, the Seahawks had to be upset that the Cardinals couldn’t pull off what would have been a huge upset. Seattle’s next four games are at Philadelphia, vs. Vikings, at Rams, at Panthers. The Seahawks would presumably be thrilled to go 3-1 in those games. If they go 2-2, would that be enough in the NFC West race?
4. New Orleans Saints (8-2, LW: 4)
OK, one more observation in the MVP conversation: Doesn’t Michael Thomas deserve some respect? A receiver has never won and that’s a shame, and Thomas likely won’t be the first. But he is on pace for a staggering 150 receptions. The Saints were undefeated in games that Drew Brees missed. Alvin Kamara missed time when Brees was out too. What has been the constant? The guy known as “Can’t Guard Mike” on Twitter being absolutely unstoppable. This appreciation by Yahoo Sports’ Shalise Manza Young can double as Thomas’ MVP resume.
3. San Francisco 49ers (9-1, LW: 2)
The 49ers moving down a spot has more to do with the Ravens’ Week 11 domination than anything the 49ers did wrong. You don’t want to struggle against the Cardinals at home, but it happens. The 49ers got the close win when a loss would have been damaging, and that’s what matters most.
2. Baltimore Ravens (8-2, LW: 3)
The Ravens’ next three games are at the Rams, vs. 49ers and at the Bills. No easy ones there. New England also has three tough ones coming up. The Patriots’ next three games are vs. Cowboys, at Texans and vs. Chiefs before they finish with three easily winnable games. The Ravens obviously have the tiebreaker. It would seem that over the next three weeks, the Ravens need to somehow get things evened up to have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s wild that they might need to go 14-2 to make that happen, but that’s the reality.
1. New England Patriots (9-1, LW: 1)
The Ravens were very good on Sunday but let’s not take what the Patriots did for granted. The Eagles might be disappointing but they’re far from a bad team. Winning by a touchdown at a talented team, holding them to 10 points, shouldn’t be the expectation no matter how good the Patriots have been. The Ravens took a huge step forward and this feels like a 1A/1B situation now, but the Patriots still get the slight edge. Even with some concerns about the offense, the Patriots have been the better team over the entirety of the season. But it’s close.
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