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Ravens-Chargers Wild-Card Game: Three Key Matchups

January 3, 2019
WHO: Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, 1:05 p.m.

The Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and host their first playoff game since the 2012 season by virtue of winning the AFC North title. The Ravens and Chargers meet for the second time in three weeks; the Ravens won the Week 16 matchup, 22-10, then won the AFC North with a 26-24 win against the Cleveland Browns Dec. 30.

The Chargers ended up as a wild-card entry to the playoffs and the No. 5 seed despite tying for the best record in the AFC at 12-4. They lost the AFC West to the Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) in a tiebreaker based on division record. 

As the two teams battle for the right to advance and face either the top-seeded Chiefs or the No. 2 seed New England Patriots, here are three matchups to watch:

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson vs. Chargers S Derwin James

The two first-round rookie stars go at it again. In the first meeting, Jackson was held to 39 yards rushing -- his lowest total as a starter -- on 13 carries, but he threw for a career-high 204 passing yards, including a 68-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Mark Andrews. 

James was playing near the line of scrimmage and covering receiver Willie Snead on that play, but James figures to line up all over the field and mask his intentions, and it's quite possible James will cover Andrews, who has become Jackson's go-to target.

James is a strong contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Chargers with 109 tackles, 15 passes defensed and three interceptions. He also had 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hits. In the first meeting between these teams, James finished with six tackles and one pass breakup. 

Ravens S Eric Weddle vs. Chargers QB Philip Rivers

Weddle got the better of his longtime teammate and friend in the first matchup, as the Ravens held the Chargers to 198 yards of offense -- their lowest total in more than four years. No one on the Ravens knows Rivers better than Weddle; they were teammates for nine seasons in San Diego. In the Week 16 meeting, Weddle finished with two tackles and directed a defense that picked off Rivers twice, sacked him four times and hit him eight times.

On Rivers' first pass of that game, cornerback Brandon Carr made a leaping, one-handed interception that set the tone for the rest of the game. Facing constant pressure and physical coverage of his receivers, Rivers never got in a rhythm, finishing 23-of-37 for 181 yards, with two interceptions and a passer rating of 51.7, his lowest of the season. Overall this year, Rivers threw for 4,308 yards, with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale this week called Weddle "a football savant. He knows what bothers Philip, we know what bothers Philip. Philip knows what bothers Weddle. So that's the fun challenge to watch."

Ravens LB C.J. Mosley vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates or TE Hunter Henry

Mosley had the play of the game -- if not the season -- when he dropped in coverage and picked off Baker Mayfield's fourth-down pass with 1:02 left Dec. 30, securing the Ravens' 26-24 win, division title, and spot in this week's home playoff game. 

Mosley candidly said he has heard the social-media criticism of his coverage ability and is motivated by it. The Ravens did a tremendous job on the Chargers' wide receivers during the last meeting, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them try to attack the middle of the field with their tight ends, something that has frequently worked against the Ravens.

Gates, 38, had three catches for 21 yards in the Week 16 matchup and finished his 16th season with 28 catches for 333 yards and two scores. Henry, a former second-round draft pick, has missed all season after suffering a torn ACL in spring OTAs, but he reportedly practiced with the starters this week and is expected to play. In 14 games last year, he had 45 catches for 579 yards and four touchdowns.

PREDICTION

It will probably be hard for the Ravens to suffocate the Chargers' 11th-ranked offense as thoroughly as they did in the Week 16 meeting, but this Ravens defense has proved to be stubborn, and the Chargers will have to earn every yard they gain. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens will too, for that matter, against a Chargers defense ranked No. 9 overall. For the Ravens, trips to the red-zone need to result in touchdowns, not fumbles or 24-yard field goals by Justin Tucker. Ravens 23, Chargers 20.

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox