Five questions to ask and a prediction for Jaguars (2-6) at Ravens (2-6), Sunday (1 pm.) at M&T Bank Stadium:
1. Can the Ravens handle wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns?
Elite wide receivers have hurt the Ravens all season and the Jaguars have two of them. Robinson and Hurns have six touchdowns apiece and both are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. We’ll find out quickly if the bye helped the Ravens’ secondary solve its issues.
2. How will the Ravens’ receiving corps respond to Steve Smith’s absence?
Compensating for Smith’s loss won’t be easy. Wide receiver Kamar Aiken will become more of a go-to guy for quarterback Joe Flacco, but the pressure is on the receivers, the tight ends, Flacco, and the entire offensive unit to prove that Smith’s loss for the season (torn Achilles) won’t be a severe obstacle.
3. Will the Ravens’ defense force a turnover for the first time since Week 3?
That’s a long time between turnovers, but the Ravens have to cover better and gang-tackle more to produce the turnovers that would make life easier for their offense. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown at least one interception in seven of eight starts this season. No reason why the Ravens can’t get at least one pick Sunday.
4. Do the Jaguars have some trick plays up their sleeve?
The Ravens beat the Jaguars, 20-12 last season, but Jacksonville had a successful onside kick in the second quarter and a fake punt for a first down in the third quarter. The rebuilding Jaguars can afford to take chances and Gus Bradley is an aggressive head coach. If the Ravens are not alert, they could get burned by trick plays again.
5. Can the Jaguars keep the Ravens’ pass rush away from Bortles?
The Ravens had eight sacks against the Jaguars last season. While the Ravens’ pass rush has not been the same without Terrell Suggs (season-ending Achilles injury), Bortles has still been sacked 25 times, more than any quarterback except Russell Wilson (31), Colin Kaepernick (28), and Alex Smith (28). If Bortles gets knocked around frequently by the Ravens, it will be difficult for the Jaguars to pull off the upset.
PREDICTION: It’s premature to talk about the Ravens making a second-half playoff push. But they should beat the Jaguars at M&T.
RAVENS 23, Jaguars 16