Both teams have been dealing with injuries throughout the season, but only the Ravens have been able to weather them and stack wins anyway. Baltimore enters the game with a 6-2 record and control of first place in the AFC North, while Miami comes in at 2-7 and in the basement in the AFC East.
Time is running out for the Dolphins to save their season, while the time is now for the Ravens to stake their claim as the best team in the conference. Who will come out on top? We'll find out later this evening. But first, let's preview the game.
How to watch
When the Ravens have the ball
Lamar Jackson is playing at an extraordinarily high level at the moment -- and in a much different way than he did when he was the MVP of the league back in 2019. The Ravens have morphed from a run-oriented team based around Jackson's skill set as a rusher, to a pass-oriented team based around Jackson's skill set as a thrower. And they are still thriving.
Jackson leads the NFL in both yards per completion (12.3) and yards per rush attempt (6.2, his third consecutive season over 6), and Baltimore ranks seventh in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA despite playing this season without starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley for all but one game, without any of their top three running backs, and with either Sammy Watkins or Rashod Bateman sidelined for every game this season. The level of responsibility he is carrying is outrageous. Last week, he became the first player in league history to attempt 40-plus passes and 20-plus rushing attempts in the same game as he led the Ravens to a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Though they are coming off what was likely their best performance of the season (five sacks and four turnovers against the Texans), the Dolphins defense has been one of the league's more disappointing units this season. It's notable that their worst performances did come in games where both Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were sidelined due to injuries, but the defense as a whole is not playing at the same level it did last season even when everyone is healthy.
The Dolphins have gotten pressure at an above-average rate, according to TruMedia, but they have still proven vulnerable to deep passes. Miami ranks just 27th in DVOA against throws at least 20 yards in the air, which they Dolphins have allowed opponents to attempt at the league's eighth-highest rate. The 24 completions they have allowed on those plays is four more than the next-closest team in the league, and the 688 yards they have allowed are second-most behind only the Detroit Lions.
Jackson has been far better on intermediate throws (39 of 58 for 722 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception on passes 11 to 19 yards downfield) than deep ones this season, but between Bateman and Marquise Brown, he has multiple receivers capable of burning a defense over the top. The Dolphins have been ultra-vulnerable over the deep middle, though, which is where they can get beaten by tight end Mark Andrews working against their linebackers and safeties -- the weakest members of their coverage unit.
Baltimore has cycled through several different backs this season but has landed on Devonta Freeman as the lead ball-carrier at the moment -- at least until Latavius Murray returns from injury. Miami has a history of ignoring fluff in the run game to focus on the biggest threat, so it would not be surprising if they dared Jackson to continue handing the ball off to Freeman and Le'Veon Bell over and over again, trying to make Baltimore move down the field with short gains on the ground. Even in they event the Dolphins pursue that strategy, though, Jackson is more than capable of making them pay if they give him even one opportunity to take off around the edge.
When the Dolphins have the ball
Tua Tagovailoa is listed as questionable for this game after missing the team's victory over the Texans last week. He has been far more effective under center than has backup Jacoby Brissett, who holds the ball for too long and doesn't even throw downfield that often to make up for it. Especially against this Ravens defense, you need to be willing to take some chances and make plays downfield.
Much like the Dolphins, the Ravens have done a good job getting pressure on opposing QBs, but their coverage unit has left something to be desired. Baltimore lost Marcus Peters to a season-ending injury before the season began and has also seen both cornerback Chris Westry and safety DeShon Elliott hit injured reserve, so the downtick in performance from the defensive backfield is at least understandable. Only one cornerback in the NFL has been targeted more often than Anthony Averett, whom opponents keep testing as they would rather take their chances with him than any of Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, or Tavon Young.
Still, because the Ravens play so much man coverage, they have been beatable on longer-developing plays when the opponent can block it up along the offensive line. Tagovailoa has been considerably more effective against man this year (33 of 56 for 354 yards, five touchdowns, one interception, 0.25 EPA per dropback) than has Brissett (30 of 54 for 285 and two scores, 0.12 EPA per dropbacks), owing to his quicker release and decision-making. He's flashed more chemistry with both Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki, who are the team's best man-coverage beaters due to their elite speed (Waddle) and athleticism (Gesicki).
Waddle seems likely to see a whole lot of Humphrey because of how much time he spends in the slot, while Gesicki lines up in the slot or out wide often enough that he should see plenty of both Humphrey and Smith. If they can get either one of them matched up with Averett, perhaps we'll see Tagovailoa take a rare (for him) shot deep down the field and try to get a big play. (Assuming he ends up active, that is.)
Miami has struggled to run the ball all season and seems unlikely to find success against Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, and company up front. Utilizing the run game as part of the RPO-based offense is more likely to yield positive results, especially if the Dolphins can use the aggressiveness of Baltimore's back seven players against them. Still, that's a tall order for either Brissett, or Tagovailoa coming off yet another injury.
Prediction: Ravens 30, Dolphins 17