Playoff Game Preview

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AFC Divisional Round playoff preview: Ravens at Bills

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on NBC/Universo at 8:15 pm ET on Saturday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

Ravens vs. Bills: The Backstory

Much-maligned first-round dropouts a season ago, Lamar Jackson's Ravens and Josh Allen's Bills have graduated to the AFC Divisional Round.

The fifth-seeded Baltimore Ravens will take on the host Buffalo Bills, the No. 2 seed and AFC East champ, at 8:15 p.m. ET this Saturday from Bills Stadium.

Dual-threat dynamos at quarterback, Allen and Jackson are upon the marquee for this one, though talent abounds on each side.

For Buffalo, these are the new-age Bills, having busted franchise records and established success longed for throughout this current century.

For Baltimore, this is a Ravens squad that somehow fell flat of sky-high expectations, weathered a COVID-19 outbreak within the organization and reestablished itself as one of the best teams in the AFC all within the span of one season.

At this point of the season, every team's on a hot streak or they'd be home for the winter. Nonetheless, the Bills and Ravens are runaway locomotives running on more momentum than most. Baltimore emerged from a perilous 6-5 record with a current six-game winning streak that carries it into Saturday against a Buffalo team which owns an NFL-best seven-game streak of victories.

Synonymous with these teams' red-hot runs has been the play of Allen and Jackson, the seventh and 32nd pick, respectively, in the 2018 NFL Draft. This will be just the 12th occasion in the Super Bowl era in which starting quarterbacks selected in the first round of the same draft square off in a playoff game, per NFL Research.

Each of them are coming off spectacular regular seasons. Allen set new Bills records with 396 completions, 4,544 yards passing and 37 touchdowns, which were part of a campaign in which he had 46 total touchdowns.

Jackson, meanwhile, rebounded from a somewhat underwhelming start of the season to play spectacularly down the stretch, finishing up with 2,757 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air and 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. The fleet-footed Jackson has raced to back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, an accomplishment that hasn't really gotten the fanfare it perhaps deserves considering only two quarterbacks in the 100-plus year history of the NFL have run for 1,000 yards in a season and Jackson has done it twice.

For all the statistical and regular season success, though, the two earned their initial playoff victories a week ago, freeing themselves of massive weights upon their shoulders and moving forward into Saturday's showdown.

Though they're atop the marquee and will no doubt draw the attention of their opposing defenses, neither is absent stellar contributions.

Jackson has been part of a rushing attack buoyed by rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, tight end Mark Andrews and receiver Marquise Brown have emerged and the Baltimore defense is coming off arguably its best performance.

Allen's maturation to league superstar has been aided mightily by the addition of receiver Stefon Diggs to a receiving corps that's also been highlighted by the play of Cole Beasley and the emergent Gabriel Davis. And Buffalo's defense, once the hallmark of the team, might've taken a backseat to the burgeoning Allen, but has found its stride at the right time.

Two of the hottest teams in the NFL, led by two of the brightest and most exciting quarterbacks in the league, are set to collide on Saturday night.

Under Pressure

Don Martindale, defensive coordinator, Ravens: There is no rest for the weary or the triumphant. With a wink, a nod and one very impressive performance against a previously high-scoring Titans offense, Martindale's defense showed up emphatically in Baltimore's 20-13 opening-round win over the Titans. Now, he's got to do it all over again versus the Allen-led Bills, as the Ravens move from the NFL's No. 4 scoring offense of Tennessee to the No. 2 squad of Buffalo. Perhaps some measure of relief is found in being able to focus on a Bills offense that's relied little on its backs, but Allen has been a terror on the ground throughout his burgeoning career. With rookie back Zack Moss out for the remainder of the playoffs with an ankle injury, Devin Singletary could be looked upon to have a larger role in the Bills offense, but the Ravens' crosshairs aren't moving from Allen. Allen is 0-2 in his career against the Ravens and has been sacked a combined nine times in those losses. This year, though, Allen's been stellar against the blitz. And though the Ravens blitz more than anyone -- their 45.2 blitz percentage is the highest in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats -- they're not the most successful by a large margin, with their 27.0 QB pressure percentage ranking 26th. Regardless, Martindale's said he intends to bring it against Allen, whose 15 TD strikes versus the blitz are second-best in the league. For as impressive as Martindale's defense looked against the Titans, much if not all of that appreciation could vanish in the blink of an Allen-to-Diggs highlight -- especially if Allen lofts a score over an ill-fated Ravens blitz.

Bills rushing defense: By many a metric, the Bills' once-dominant defense of seasons past is middle-of-the-road this campaign (14th in total defense, 16th in scoring, 17th against the rush, 13th versus the pass), but that doesn't tell the tale of how it's been playing as of late. From Week 12 through the end of the regular season, the Bills are allowing 18.3 points per game -- more than eight points less than the first 10 weeks. Much of that's due to Buffalo buckling down against the run, as it's allowed 94 yards per game on the ground in that aforementioned span, 41 yards fewer than the first 10 games, according to NFL Research. The Bills were hardly spectacular in their wild-card win over the Colts -- allowing 163 rushing yard in 30 carries -- but it was enough. In Baltimore, though, Buffalo will face a rushing attack of all-time proportions. The Ravens' 236 rushing yards against the Titans in the playoff opener put them 229 yards away from surpassing the 1972 Dolphins for the most rushing yards in a single season, including the playoffs -- per NFL Research. Last season's Ravens set an all-time rushing record in the regular season with 3,296 yards and this version's 3,071 yards once again led the league and is fourth all-time. Somehow, the Bills defense, led by safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, will need to stand up to the Jackson-led attack. And while having to defend the speedy quarterback is difficult enough, Gus Edwards (723 rushing yards) and Dobbins (805 yards) have been excellent also. It would be foolish to think the Bills can stop the Ravens running game, but they'll need to make some stops, particularly in the early going. If the Ravens rushing attack sets a tone early, it's going to be a long and arduous day defensively for the Bills. If Buffalo can land a couple stops early, though, it's a drastically different ballgame.

Matchup to Watch

Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Ravens cornerbacks: Diggs says he'll be alright, referring to a nagging oblique issue. He's been outstanding all season for the Bills, including in the wild-card win over the Colts in which he was dealing with the same oblique injury. Following a regular season in which he produced league-leading and franchise-record totals of 127 catches and 1,535 yards, Diggs tallied six grabs for 128 and a touchdown against the Colts' staunch defense. Baltimore boasts a talented trio of corners in Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey that will no doubt pay plenty of attention to Diggs. Diggs' first season with the Bills has been the best of his career, but has also showcased his overall game and versatility, as he can still make the big play down the field and has become Allen's go-to guy at all levels. Diggs has never faced the Ravens and there's not many larger stages to make a good first impression.

Final Thought

In a way, history is made in every playoff game and that's a huge reason this time of year is so great -- the magnitude, the circumstance of it all. But a season ago at this time, Allen and the Bills and Jackson and the Ravens were at home drinking in the disappointment of opportunity lost. Now, one of the NFL's bright young quarterbacking stars will be set for the AFC Championship Game. This is history. This is young stars taking over and taking giant steps ahead. This has been a chaotic NFL season amid a trying time for the world and this game will produce a victor emblematic of a promising future. This is just the second time in NFL chronicle, per NFL Research, in which two quarterbacks who won their first career playoff games in the wild-card round will face off in divisional play. This new era of superstars is playing out and coming together in front of our eyes. Obviously, one star quarterback and one team is going to head home in agonizing fashion -- such is the harsh reality of this time of season. But no matter what phenomenal first-rounder and his charges have a triumph to toast, this Saturday evening is a celebration of what is now and what lies ahead in the NFL.

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