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Lamar Jackson has been the NFL's best player this season. Now it's his time to shine

Then there were 8. Paul Hosford previews this weekend’s NFL divisional round.

Jackson: 36 TDs and 6 INTs this season.
Jackson: 36 TDs and 6 INTs this season.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1.15am 

DO YOU REMEMBER what you were doing on 6 January, 2019?

I’m not privy to the memories of the presumptive NFL MVP, but I’m willing to guess that Lamar Jackson does.

It was on that date a little over a year ago that he became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start an NFL playoff game.

Having taken the reins of the struggling Ravens earlier that season, the rookie had energised the offense and the fanbase, who packed M&T Bank Stadium in the cold, ready to see him run all over the LA Chargers.

Things didn’t go to plan.

At half time, the Ravens had 67 yards of total offense. They’d turned the ball over twice and the Chargers were on their way to New England, despite a late fightback.

Reports after the game suggested some fans had booed Jackson, demanding Joe Flacco be put in the game. For even his most ardent supporters, the game proved one thing: Jackson was a special athlete, but a below average NFL passer. NFL experts lined up to rank him among the bottom rung of NFL QBs – in a league where Mitch Trubisky exists.

In Week 1, Jackson only completed 17 passes. But five went for touchdowns and he became the youngest quarterback ever to post a perfect passer rating. In his own words – not bad for a running back.

That was no fluke and Jackson has gone on a tear since, breaking the single season rushing record for a quarterback, throwing 36 TDs to 6 INTs and generally being the most exciting thing about a very exciting Ravens offense.

On Saturday, he gets the chance to bury last season’s nightmare ending for good at home to the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans themselves come into the game riding the momentum of a prodigious talent – one Derrick Henry.

Henry accounted for 221 yards on his own in last week’s upset victory over the reigning champion Patriots and Mike Vrabel will need him to be at his undeniable best to keep pace with Jackson.

But Tennessee will need more than that. To do what just two teams have done this year – beat the Ravens – the Titans will have to be perfect on offense. In both of those losses, the Ravens scored 25 and 28 points. As well as the Titans D played last week, it is unlikely that they will shut out this Ravens attack.

That means that Ryan Tannehill has to throw for more than his 75 yards in Foxboro. It means that top two receivers Corey Davis and AJ Brown need to combine for more than last week’s one catch for four yards.

And then? Then it’s a case of hoping that the Jackson from last year’s playoffs shows up and not the guy we’ve seen this year.

Pick: Ravens 28-13

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers, Saturday 9.35pm

I picked against the Vikings last week and was shown up by a couple of brilliant Kirk Cousins passes and a Vikings defense that played lights out.

A one-off or a sign that this Vikings team is ready to jump from good to great? That’s what we’re about to find out. Personally, a healthy 9ers pass rush is the deciding factor here. Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander look set to return to a defense that barely needs the help up front.

Pick: 49ers 30-24

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 8.05pm

The fact that some have called this the TrubiskyBowl due to both quarterbacks being picked after the Bears traded up to draft young Mitch has some in the Windy City angry, but football fans should be delighted.

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This promises to be a spectacular game, with two quarterbacks showcasing the future of the sport.

In the end, the Texans will be outgunned by last year’s MVP, Patrick Mahomes.

Pick: Chiefs 31-24

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday 11.40pm

Put in the late Sunday slot, it’s clear the NFL believes this is the pick of the games and it’s hard to argue.

Packers fans will still remember that game. The onside kick. Blowing a 19-7 lead. Russell Wilson playing like Michael Jordan in the second half against the Monstars.

Having gutted out a scrappy win against the Eagles last week, the Seahawks have another tough road game ahead of them. This time, though, it’s against Aaron Rodgers, not Josh McCown.

That name alone is enough for me to pick the Pack.

Pick: Packers 20-17

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