By Nick Shook
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The NFL returns to London on Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars make their fifth trip overseas to meet the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium. We’re as excited for an incredibly early kickoff as you are. We’re also here to break down what to watch for as you sip coffee and wipe the sleep from your eyes. Wake up! Football is on!
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1. Who wins the race out of the gate? Baltimore has allowed just five points per game in its two contests, and if two games of tape hold true, it won’t be much easier for the Jaguars, even with the trip overseas. This presents a rather large issue for Jacksonville, which has shown in its two games that it needs an early lead to have a good shot at a win. That comes by the Jaguars forcing turnovers to position Blake Bortles in advantageous situations, where chance of success is high and damage inflicted by mistakes is minimal. Sunday isn’t setting up like that, at least on paper.
2. Baltimore pounded Cincinnati into submission in Week 1 by way of forcing turnovers and the run game. The Ravens opened things up more through the air in their Week 2 win over the Browns, but the engine of the offense is still its rushing attack. In two games, Javorius Allen and Terrance West have combined to rush for 239 yards on 62 carries. Alex Collins added 42 yards on seven carries in the win over Cleveland. None of the aforementoned runners are easy to bring down, and a steady dose of carries has visibily worn down two defenses in consecutive weeks. Establishing the run against a hungry Jaguars pass rush worked wonders for the Titans in Week 2, and should keep Jacksonville’s defense honest. It should also keep Joe Flacco from ending up on his back, which he admitted this week isn’t exactly 100 percent.
3. The Jaguars caused plenty of chaos in their Week 1 win over the Texans and took advantage of the resulting turnovers in a 29-7 win, but didn’t find the same success in Week 2. Calais Campbell‘s four sacks still leads the NFL, but he went without one last week. Jacksonville will have to break through Baltimore’s offensive line, which has allowed just three total sacks in two games (T-8th in the league). As effective as Jacksonville has been at forcing turnovers, Baltimore is even better. The Ravens are first in the league in turnovers forced and turnover differential, while Jacksonville ranks T-18th and T-4th in the same categories. It’s entirely cliche but also very true in this matchup: The turnover battle will determine the winner.
4. Ageless wonder Terrell Suggs is tied for third in sacks with three. As a team, Baltimore is tied for fifth in the NFL with eight sacks. Jacksonville successfully relied on Leonard Fournette and its defense in Week 1, taking the onus off Bortles and making his passes less consequential. With a menace like Suggs and an opportunistic defense, that might not be possible. Fournette will have to get going early if the Jags want a chance in this one, or else risk Suggs and Co. pinning their ears back and hunting for Bortles.
5. The London Jags stronghold! Thanks to Jacksonville spending a week overseas in each of the last four seasons, a dedicated group of Jaguars fans have emerged from within London. They’ll take to Wembley Stadium to greet the Ravens, who are making their first trip to London in franchise history. Can Jacksonville get a rare (and somewhat odd) home-field advantage, even while an ocean away from home? Are there more Ravens fans in England than we currently realize? Find out on Sunday!