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5 Questions with Baltimore Beatdown: Are the Ravens a true contender in the AFC?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) are coming off of a bye week and return to TIAA Bank Field on Sunday to host the Baltimore Ravens (7-3). The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern Time and will broadcast on CBS in local markets.

It is time to learn more about this year’s Ravens. We spoke with Kyle Barber, managing editor at Baltimore Beatdown — SB Nation’s website for news, analysis, insights and opinions regarding the Baltimore Ravens.

What kind of season is quarterback Lamar Jackson having? How is the former “Mayor of Sacksonville,” Calais Campbell, performing for the Ravens this season? Can Baltimore make a deep playoff run? Kyle answers these questions and more.

1. The Ravens currently sit at 7-3 and have won four games in a row. What has gone well for Baltimore this season? What do you think the team needs to do better?

Kyle: What’s gone right has been the improvements on both sides of the football. To begin the season, the Baltimore defense was must-watch television in the fourth quarter on account of them struggling to hold a lead. The Ravens’ rushing attack was abysmal and it required hero-ball out of quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Now, the Ravens have been running the football with authority (outside of last week, naturally) and their defense has not only settled in, they’re dictating games. It’s felt like natural progression where teams talk so often about getting practice time in and working on things and it coming true.

2. How would you grade the play of quarterback Lamar Jackson so far this season and why?

Kyle: I think he’s been a respectable quarterback that’s made the most of his offense. Early in the season, he was arguably an MVP candidate, but that no longer remains the case.

Jackson, for the most part, just gets things done. Need a first down? Jackson will find a guy to connect with downfield or sprint to the marker himself. Need a spark? Jackson will make a highlight. He’s a dynamo that defies a lot, including sometimes, physics.

3. Outside of Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews, what players on the offense do you expect to make the biggest difference on Sunday and why? What about on defense?

Kyle: On offense, I think wide receiver Demarcus Robinson stands out after he went off for nine receptions on nine targets for 128 yards against the Panthers last week. He’s built some solid rapport with Jackson. I would also cite rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, who has flashed with 102 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games.

On defense, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and outside linebacker Justin Houston immediately spring to mind. Humphrey has been a shutdown cornerback this season. His play, combined with his versatility to play outside, inside is electric. He plays with a ferocity most lack in run defense and generates pressure when corner blitz is called.

Houston’s play has been a spectacle this season. He notched two-plus sacks in three-straight games, and totals nine in seven games. He’s led a hearty pass rush that usually causes fits for young quarterbacks.

4. How has Jacksonville fan favorite Calais Campbell performed so far this season at age 36?

Kyle: Campbell’s been rock-solid this season. It’s been a treat to watch both Campbell and Houston play at such high levels this late in their respective careers. He also notched career sack No. 98 last Sunday. He, and the defensive line as a whole, have helped to lead the defense.

5. The Ravens currently lead the AFC North, with the Cincinnati Bengals one game behind. The division appears to be a two-team race between those squads, and the Ravens already have a head-to-head win, but have to play the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 18. What are your expectations for the Ravens for the remainder of the season?

Kyle: The schedule for the Ravens in conjunction with the Bengals’ schedule leaves an opportunity for Baltimore to wrap up the division before the Week 18 clash. Will it happen? I think it’s more likely than not. But, the Ravens haven’t put together enough consistently for me to be confident in that expectation.

I think the Ravens win the division and win around 11-12 games, dropping one or two over the next seven contests. I think getting a home game will be crucial for them. Depending upon who they draw, I see them reaching the conference championship game, but I don’t know if they have the guns to go toe-to-toe with some of these other AFC contenders. On the Ravens’ best day, they absolutely can. Their run game is elite and the Ravens’ offensive line is grading as the best in pro football. But they have distinct weaknesses right now.

6. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Ravens are currently favored by 3.5-points. Will Baltimore cover and what is your final score prediction?

Kyle: I see the game going one of two ways. The Ravens let the Jaguars hang around too long and an error or two has them flying home with a loss OR they put together a 60-minute affair and the run game bullies the Jaguars up and down the field.

I think the Jaguars cover, and I’m concerned the Ravens don’t get out of Florida with a crucial victory.

Final score: Jaguars 21-18

Thank you to Kyle for taking time out of the busy holiday week to give us some great insights into Baltimore. For more on the Ravens, follow Kyle and follow Baltimore Beatdown.