Enjoying their second three-game winning streak of the season after a 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Ravens will look to make it four in a row when they welcome the winless Indianapolis Colts to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
As the Ravens return to work at Owings Mills on Wednesday, here are five thoughts to ponder about 9-3 Baltimore …
1. While they enjoy the spotlight of prime-time games, the Ravens would prefer playing their Week 15 game in San Diego in the afternoon rather than Sunday night. The league and NBC have had a difficult time coming to a decision on whether to flex the Patriots-Broncos game to prime-time to capitalize on the Tim Tebow mania and his appealing matchup with Tom Brady. With linebacker Ray Lewis possibly making his return against the struggling Chargers, you know he’d like to show a national audience his toe is just fine, but the Ravens will be just as content playing that afternoon. A Sunday night game on the West Coast would mean a return flight to Baltimore landing on Monday morning for an already-shortened week of preparation for the Cleveland Browns the following Saturday. The NFL violated its policy of providing 12 days notice by delaying the decision to Wednesday morning — making it 11 days prior to Dec. 18 — but the Ravens game moving to the afternoon is just fine with everyone at 1 Winning Drive. And, of course, they owe it all to Tebow.
2. The red zone offense continues to be a major warning sign regarding Baltimore’s postseason prognosis. While the Ravens have the right to feel good about their 9-3 record and positioning in the AFC playoff picture with four games remaining in the regular season, they continue to struggle inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, ranking 22nd in the league in touchdown percentage (46.3 percent). The struggles are well-documented with an inability — and, sometimes, refusal — to play power football inside the 5, a propensity for committing penalties, and the lack of a tall receiver most offenses prefer using inside the red zone. The coaching staff and players alike have spoken about the need for better execution, but the Ravens don’t appear to be getting much better in that area after a 2-for-5 performance inside the red zone against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Perhaps the offensive line’s recent improvement in run blocking bodes well for improvement near the goal line, but the Ravens could use a big target to which to throw when the coverage is compacted near the goal line. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta might be able to fill the role to some degree, but the Ravens may simply lack the personnel to make marked improvement inside the red zone. Hopefully, it won’t cost them in the postseason, but it’s an ominous sign when facing the toughest competition in the conference.
3. The Week 14 playoff scenarios prove how silly it is to obsess over positioning with a quarter of the season remaining. If you need any more proof why it serves little purpose to brood over playoff seeding with a month left in the regular season, this week’s will make you rip your hair out as the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot — in an unlikely scenario — this weekend while the Ravens have no such possibility despite sweeping Pittsburgh in the regular season and owning the tiebreaker over their hated AFC North rival. In fact, Baltimore is the only of four teams with a 9-3 record in the AFC that can’t clinch a postseason spot in Week 14 despite having the shortest road to the No. 1 seed by simply running the table over the final four games. My advice for fans? Ignore the playoff prognosticating for at least one more week and simply root for the Ravens to take care of Indianapolis on Sunday. With four games remaining, the Ravens have never found themselves in such a position to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs without any outside help required. All they have to do is continue to win.