There was plenty of room for optimism when the Ravens beat the division leading Bengals nine days ago. Some of that optimism went by the wayside when Baltimore’s road woes continued in a sloppy mess of a game in Chicago, resulting in 23-20 overtime loss. The loss means the Ravens are right back where they were two games ago. Two games back of .500, two games back of the Bengals in the loss column in the division. Now, they find themselves with the same record (4-6) as the surging Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.
The playoffs are still a longshot. However we have seen a 7-9 Seattle team win their division in 2010. Also a couple 8-8 squads, the 2008 Chargers and 1985 Browns have done the same. So anything can happen. The other three teams in the division still have to do their part.
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I’d like to break down the remainder of the season into two, three game parts. If the Ravens are serious about continuing the playoff conversation, they must win the next three games (part one) against an equal team talent wise, a familiar division foe, and one of the league’s worst teams. All three games are at home where the Ravens are 36-8 in the Harbaugh era. If they succeed they’ll enter the second set of three with a 7-6 record and nine or ten wins within reach. The division race and playoff picture much clearer as well. If they don’t succeed in part one, part two is a moot point.
Part one of the remainder of the season starts with the New York Jets. The Jets are similar to the Ravens when it comes to quarterback play. Geno Smith has been very good at times, and very poor at times, much like Joe Flacco has been. Also like the Ravens, the Jets have been awful on the road going 1-4 on the year. They not only lose, they have lost big. @NE: 13-10, @TEN: 38-13, @CIN: 49-9, @BUF: 37-14. The lone win was a 30-28 victory @ATL. Add it all up and the Jets have been outscored 165-76 on the road. A trend we would like to see continue.
Moving on, the Ravens host their arch nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Thanksgiving Day prime time special. These two teams know each other well, and you can toss the records out the window. It’ll be a hard fought battle with division placement on the line. An absolute must win. Not much else you can say. The Steelers have gone 4-2 since starting off 0-4. But, like the Jets, they haven’t played well on the road going 1-4 away from Heinz Field. @CIN: 20-10, @MIN: 34-27(London), @OAK: 21-18, @NE: 55-31. The lone win on the road was a 19-6 win at…the Jets. They will go on the road to division rival Cleveland before continuing on to Baltimore on a short week.
With Turkey Day behind them, the Ravens will have extended time to prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. They also haven’t performed on the road, but they haven’t performed period at 2-8. They have allowed 30+ points six times thus far in 2013. They travel to Lambeau, and then host the Chicago Bears before they come to town to wrap up the Ravens home stand. It would be embarrassing, and probably the lowest of low points if the Ravens find a way to lose this game.
Right now, the Ravens next three games are against teams with a combined 2-13 road record on the year. (3-13 if you say the Vikings win in London was a road game, although listed as the home team)
When you look at the landscape of the league, you find the New York Giants are currently on a four game win streak after starting 0-6, bringing their record even with the Ravens. The Falcons, owners of the best record in the NFC a year ago, are 2-8 after getting slaughtered by then 1-8 Tampa Bay. The worst team in 2012, Kansas City, is 9-1 today. The Colts have beaten the likes of San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. But have suffered defeat at the hands of Miami, San Diego, and St. Louis in embarrassing fashion. Two of the New York Jets wins are thanks to penalties that allowed them to kick game winning field goals on the next play. They are two mistakes from the opposition away from 3-7 instead of 5-5. So, just a few things go the Ravens way for once, they take full advantage of being at home for three straight weeks against some not so great teams, and optimism will make its return. This is the NFL. Anything can happen. Good luck figuring this league out.