Go ahead and get it out of your system now. Give it your best Jim Mora.
“Playoffs?!?!?!?! Don’t talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me?”
Yes, we are talking bout the playoffs, and for the Ravens they have begun early again this season. It was obvious 8 years ago that any mention of his team and the playoffs together, to Mora, was ridiculous and a stretch, and given the way that the Ravens have failed to answer the bell so far this season, their own current playoff hopes should seem equally ridiculous. Yet here we are with just 4 games remaining, and despite their best efforts to the contrary, the Ravens find themselves all but in the driver’s seat for one of the two AFC wildcard spots.
It says more about the state of the AFC than it does about the prowess of the Ravens that their playoff hopes are still very much intact. Still, once you get to the dance, anything can happen, history has shown us that time and again. And as it stands right now, smart money is on the Ravens to be there.
The Ravens haven’t been a proverbial playoff team this season, by any stretch of the imagination. But since the proverbial playoffs have yet to be invented, qualifying for the actual playoffs by whatever means you can is still the ultimate goal. And as bad as the Ravens have been at times, most times actually, it’s still tough to find 6 teams in the AFC that are clearly better.
The four division winners seem predictable enough, New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and San Diego all look like relatively safe bets. Even if we forget about Denver’s late season collapse last season, and the glimpse that they gave us of their ability to do it again in the middle of this season, and also ignore the fact that the Ravens would have the tie breaker against the Broncos or Chargers for that matter if they were to come back to the pack, even if we concede the 1st wildcard to the runner up in the west; who else in the AFC is clearly better? Who is set up better?
The Jags have the spot right now, but I doubt anyone could argue that they’re clearly better than the Ravens, or built to last. They certainly aren’t set up better. They’ll see the Dolphins this week, the Colts next week, while they may still be throttled up, and the Patriots after that. By the time they see the Browns in week 17, the Jags should already be a wrap. They could be the biggest paper tiger of all of the AFC contenders, as they have 3-point wins over KC, Buffalo and the Rams in overtime, and were absolutely smoked by both the Seahawks and Niners. Something tells me that it’s safe to forget about the Jags.
In fact, when the Jags take on the Dolphins this weekend, the proactive Ravens fan may be pulling for Jacksonville, even though they currently hold the final wildcard spot. The Dolphins certainly seem like a much more realistic contender, and are gaining momentum under young Chad Henne. They’re at Tennessee after this week, then finish up at home against Houston and Pittsburgh. All seem to be winnable games, but tougher than the Ravens’ remaining schedule for sure. If both teams run the table, it appears that the Ravens would win the tiebreaker in common opponents by virtue of the Ravens’ win over San Diego. If the Dolphins step up and claim the East however, it could spell the end for Baltimore. It’s tough to pick a dog in their fight this weekend, but I still think that a Jags win works better for the Ravens in the end.
The Jets are struggling with injuries and inconsistency, but have a very winnable game at Tampa this week. After that they’ll get the equally reeling Falcons, travel to the Colts, who may or may not still be playing, and finish against the Bengals, who also may have little or nothing to play for by then. If both teams were to run the table though, the Ravens would win a tie based on conference record. Anything short of running the table is likely the end for either team.
Houston and Tennessee, with 5 wins each aren’t dead yet either, and since both can help to bury the Dolphins, that too could wind up working in the Ravens favor.
The cherry on top is probably the fact that if the Steelers aren’t done just yet, the Ravens will have to bury them for good on their way to running the table.
Thursday’s debacle by the Steelers in Cleveland should serve as both an encouragement and a lesson for the Ravens. Although Ravens and playoffs may be tough for conservative fans to digest just yet, a playoff game against the Lions is about as ridiculous as you can get. Surely the Ravens will beat the Lions this week, and the real test will begin next week against Chicago, or the week after that in Pittsburgh. The Lions this week is all but a foregone conclusion, right? That’s probably what the Steelers were thinking about while beginning their playoff run in Cleveland on Thursday night too, and thus it ended just as quickly as it started. If the Ravens make that mistake against the Lions this week, theirs will be done too. But they’re not done just yet, contrary to popular belief, reports of the Ravens’ demise have been at least somewhat exaggerated.
And if they need any more reminders of reasons why they should take the Lions seriously this week, they need look no further than the referee. Although it won’t be Mike “Malice in his Heart” Carey, it will be his big brother Don. Not a conspiracy, just a reminder.