NFL Gamebreakers: Josh Allen vs. Lamar Jackson in MVP Showdown

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Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/AFP

The premiere game in the NFL this week is between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens this Sunday afternoon.

Not only is it a huge game in the AFC playoff standings, but quarterbacks Josh Allen (+300 at Bovada –visit our Bovada Review) and Lamar Jackson (+450) are the top two candidates for this year’s MVP award entering Week 4 according to the current NFL odds.  

Despite last week’s loss, Allen’s Bills are a 3-point favorite in Jackson’s building at many of the top-rated sportsbooks.

Who has the edge on Sunday and takes the lead in the MVP race? We break down two of the game’s most dangerous quarterbacks.

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Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, October 02, 2022 – 01:00 PM EDT at M&T Bank Stadium

Allen and Jackson: Always Intertwined

These are two quarterback careers that will always be intertwined because of how they were treated in the 2018 draft. Despite not being the first or second quarterbacks off the board, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have outplayed the competition (Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen) by a significant margin.

Their first game in the NFL was against each other in Week 1 of the 2018 season. While neither started, both came off the bench and had their first completions and runs in Baltimore’s 47-3 win.

The first matchup as starters came in 2019 in Buffalo during Jackson’s MVP season. Neither quarterback threw for 150 yards in a defensive battle, but Jackson definitely got the better of things while Allen was still struggling in his second season. Down 24-17 late, Allen was unable to tie the game in the final minutes.

But while Jackson was the MVP in 2019, Allen improved so much in 2020 that he had an MVP-caliber season of his own. The two met in the divisional round of the playoffs with a little wind and chill in the air leading to some shaky results again for the offenses. In a 10-3 game late in the third quarter, Jackson’s pass in the red zone was jumped by Taron Johnson and returned 101 yards for a touchdown. Jackson was then concussed while trying to recover a loose ball on the next play, missing the rest of the 17-3 loss.

Meeting Again At Last

This is the first matchup since then with both quarterbacks playing at a very high level again.

Despite the accolades, both have plenty to prove in a league that still directs the majority of praise to Patrick Mahomes in the AFC, still holds Super Bowl expectations for Tom Brady, and has given the last two MVP awards to Aaron Rodgers.

Both quarterbacks are searching for respect in Year 5, and perhaps much more.

The Five-Year Rule

By being drafted in 2018, this is the fifth season for Jackson and Allen, who both started games their rookie year. Five years is a long time in the NFL, and it has been a crucial window for a quarterback and a coach if they are ever going to do special things together.

Call it the Five-Year Rule. In NFL history, no team has ever won its first championship by starting the same quarterback for the same head coach for more than five seasons.

In the last two years, we have seen two quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady) go to new teams and immediately win the Super Bowl. That is not the norm, but it is the norm to see a quarterback and coach win together within five years or it just never happens. In fact, some of the most notable duos were able to win their first championship in their fifth year together:

  • Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll (1974 Steelers)
  • Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren (1996 Packers)
  • Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy (2006 Colts)
  • Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy (2010 Packers; third year starting at QB)
  • Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh (2012 Ravens)

If Allen or Jackson does not win the Super Bowl this year, that does not mean they never will. It just means it may not happen with Harbaugh or Sean McDermott as their head coach. It will have to come with another coach, or maybe with another team in Jackson’s case if the Ravens do not give him the blockbuster contract he is clearly worth.

We know both teams have disappointed in the playoffs in recent years. The 2019 Ravens lost at home to the Titans despite a stellar regular season and No. 1 seed. The Bills had that infamous 13-second meltdown in Kansas City last January after Allen led the offense to 12 touchdowns in 16 playoff drives.

If Harbaugh and McDermott can’t win a championship with these quarterbacks in five years in their physical prime, then maybe someone else will have to try soon. But the Five-Year Rule is just another cool subplot to the pursuit of the MVP and Super Bowl for these quarterbacks and teams this season.

Next, let’s look at the matchup for each this Sunday.

Josh Allen vs. Baltimore’s Defense

Allen leads a Buffalo offense that is No. 1 in yards per drive (46.2) and No. 1 in points per drive (2.83). He just threw for 400 yards in Miami and the offense left a lot of plays and points on the field.

Allen has to be licking his chops at a Baltimore defense that is the only in the league to allow over 1,000 passing yards through Week 3 this year. Much of that damage was done by Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins in Week 2, but that game is a microcosm of what’s been going on with this Baltimore defense since 2021 started. In that time, the Ravens have allowed five 400-yard passers, including two huge games for Joe Burrow and that monster game for Tua this year. They even just allowed Mac Jones to throw for a career-high 321 yards. They allowed Carson Wentz to have his only 400-yard game of his career last year.

Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed aren’t walking through that tunnel to save this Baltimore defense. There have been some injuries again like last year to the secondary, but the lapses in coverage are just shocking at times for a team coached by Harbaugh. The Bills should be able to exploit this for a good aerial game, weather permitting.

Much to Improve With a Weak Lineup

Also have to say health permitting, as Gabriel Davis has been limited in practice with an injury that cost him Week 2. Stefon Diggs cannot do everything for this passing game, and it seems like Allen is falling in love with the short passes to the running backs instead of getting the tight end (Dawson Knox) involved more this year.

Remember, the Bills lost Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders, so if Davis and Knox aren’t healthy enough to fill bigger roles, the ball must go somewhere for an offense that does not love running from the backfield. Buffalo’s answer has been the running backs in the passing game with 28 catches in three games, putting them on pace for nearly 160 catches. Buffalo’s running backs had 73 catches in 17 games last year.

The results have been great so far, but Sunday was just a sloppy performance with terrible end-of-half drives, a touchdown drop by Davis, and a missed field goal that should have been made.

Still, it is concerning that Buffalo has lost its last 12 games when trailing in the fourth quarter. Allen has not led a fourth-quarter comeback since Week 3 of the 2020 season, which is 39 starts ago. Jackson has had five comeback wins in his last 21 starts. Allen will need to end that drought this year if the Bills are going to reach their lofty goals as the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl and Allen to win MVP.

Lamar Jackson vs. Buffalo’s Defense

Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have had multiple games with 200 yards passing, 100 yards rushing, and a rushing touchdown. Two of them are in this game, and Jackson is the first quarterback to ever do those things in back-to-back games.

Jackson might be the most unique talent to ever play the position in the NFL. He is currently leading the NFL in touchdown passes (10) and passer rating (119.0) while working on another 1,000-yard rushing season from the quarterback position. It is basically the same formula in 2019 that led Jackson to the MVP and the Ravens to the No. 1 seed.

However, this Baltimore team is not as stacked on defense or the running game. Jackson is being asked to carry the team more than ever, and so far, he is crushing the task. His defense just had a colossal meltdown against the Dolphins in the fourth quarter.

It’s not the kind of comeback he should worry about from Buffalo, a team that looks more like a front-runner by the week. Buffalo’s last 20 regular-season wins have all been by 10-plus points, which ties the 1941-42 Bears for the NFL record. Jackson has only lost six of his 56 starts (10.7%) by double digits. That drops to 7.7% if we are just talking about regular-season games. He should put up plenty of fight in this one at home.

Buffalo's Defensive Issues

Also, the Buffalo defense is going through some health issues after losing starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer for the Miami game. Hyde is out for the season and Poyer has a chance to return this week. Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips have also been out for the last game or two at defensive tackle but could both return for Sunday. Top corner Tre’Davious White has yet to play in 2022 and will not be on the field this week.

Jackson has an elite tight end in Mark Andrews who can get open anywhere on the field. He has three touchdowns in the last two games. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman was the team’s first-round pick in 2021 and he has done a great job of replacing Hollywood Brown with 226 yards and two touchdowns in three games. Even Devin Duvernay is scoring a touchdown every week as Jackson makes use of everyone in this offense now.

The backfield should improve in time, but right now, everything is clicking for Jackson. He was able to shake off the Kansas City demons last season with a high-scoring win at home against Patrick Mahomes and company. He’s not winless against Buffalo, but that 2020 playoff loss was the last we have seen of him in the postseason, and it was not a good game for Jackson. This one is big for him and this team.

Bills vs. Ravens Predictions

It is worth noting that this game’s total is set to 51 points after their playoff duel finished 17-3 with a defensive touchdown two years ago.

For this NFL pick, let’s hope this game has decent weather so that these quarterbacks can shine. There is a chance it could be rainy and wet with some wind gusts. Both quarterbacks can still sling it and will run it themselves, but you don’t want to see a shoddy field with players slipping everywhere and an excessive number of fumbles and dropped passes skewing the results.

With that said, this is the kind of game where Allen should throw for over 300 yards as a lot of quarterbacks do against Baltimore these days. But when you look at the injuries in Buffalo’s secondary and the way Jackson can attack the safeties with Andrews and Bateman, and the way he can run so effectively, you should give the edge to the Ravens this week.

Maybe that edge won’t be so present in a January playoff rematch if these teams meet again, but it is there right now. Buffalo’s inability to win a close game is worrisome on the road against another contender. I will take the Ravens and back Jackson in this MVP showdown.

NFL Pick: Ravens +3 (-110) at Bovada

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Ravens +3 (-110)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.