Fresh off a bounce-back victory over Philadelphia that gave John Harbaugh a win over his former employer, the 7-4 Ravens see that not much has changed in the race for the AFC playoffs.
Pittsburgh is still one game ahead in the AFC North standings. Indianapolis has used a four-game win streak, and a last-second victory at San Diego, to stake a claim on one of the two wild-card spots. The Ravens are sixth only because of a better conference record than New England. Oh, and the Patriots stuck it to Miami.
The Dolphins, despite the bad loss, is only one game back of the Colts and Ravens. And the final contestant in the derby, the Buffalo Bills, got their offense together in a pasting of Kansas City to also trail by a game in the standings.
The Ravens got something done against the Eagles that they needed in the worst way, a victory over a team with a winning record, at home where they still have three games left. A convincing victory — that was not truly convincing until Ed Reed’s fourth-quarter jaunt from one end zone to the other. You could see the relief on the Ravens’ bench in the final moments as Harbaugh got the double Gatorade shower from his players and hugged many of his assistant coaches.
You could also see the resignation in Andy Reid’s face on the other sideline after he pulled his franchise QB at halftime and suffered through the Ravens’ defensive effort that crippled his club’s chances in a wide-open NFC playoff race.
We all know what Thanksgiving week is like at the office. Making plans for the big meal, travel arrangements in and out of town to see relatives and the knowledge that it’s a short three-day work week. Distractions, distractions and more distractions from the tasks at hand.
For teams like Cincinnati that are eliminated, or others that are nearly out of the playoff picture, those distractions are harder to dismiss. A chance to get away for a few hours from a bad season at the dinner table with family and friends is welcome, unless you are the Detroit Lions and you are the designated NFL TV turkey for the Tennessee Titans.
It’s easy to see the 1-9-1 record carried by the Bengals into this Sunday’s game, and to think the Ravens will walk out of Paul Brown Stadium with an 8-4 record going into a nationally televised Sunday night showdown with the Redskins the following week.
That’s the way Ravens fans will see it this week while they chow down on Thursday. The truth is that the Bengals are a division opponent who would like to stick a big fork into the Ravens’ playoff plans by giving them a conference loss that could hurt in the end when potential tiebreakers are settled. The last three times in Cincy, the Ravens did not come out on top, and Baltimore has to make sure that the streak does not extend to four straight.
In other words, be the ones to serve the turkey, and don’t be the unlucky gobbler against a team with a lot of motivation to prove that it will not be the Thanksgiving centerpiece for a feast for the playoff-hungry Ravens.