Playoffs start in Dallas for Ravens on Saturday night

December 19, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

The Colts victory against Jacksonville on Sunday night added another harsh dose of reality to the Ravens’ plight in attempting to make their improbable run into and eventually through the playoffs. By picking up the win, Indy locked up not just a wildcard berth, but the #5 seed to boot, thereby closing the book on any slim chances that the Ravens would have had to potentially host a playoff game.

Don’t get me wrong, the mere fact that we are still even contemplating playoffs at this point in the season is already far beyond any reasonable expectations that I had for this team before the season began. With that said however, this is not the team that we expected prior to seeing them on the field this year, and at this point, to miss the playoffs altogether would still be a huge disappointment.

For those smarting over the fact that they’ve sent off their playoff ticket money already, in this financially trying holiday season, there is some room for consolation. For all intents and purposes, at least where the Ravens are concerned, the playoffs are already underway. Whatever post-season glory or disappointment this team is destined to achieve, the road there begins, and could just as quickly end, this week in Dallas, with the Ravens a mere 6 wins away from championship glory. And one of those games will be here in Baltimore at least.

“All it takes is a 6 game winning streak.” That was my Dad’s rationale on what it takes to win a national championship in basketball. Regardless of who the competition may be, any team that considers itself championship caliber has to also consider itself capable of stringing together a six game winning streak. That logic typically doesn’t apply to football at any level, but for the 2008 Ravens, 6 wins is what it’s likely going to take.

Before the Steelers game last Sunday, I convinced myself, and even went on air and tried to convince a few of you, that losing the game would not be the end of the world. The point that I was actually trying to get across was not that losing was okay so much, but that winning wasn’t as important as most seemed to think. And I say that simply because, even had the Ravens beaten the Steelers on Sunday, it was still likely that they’d wind up with the 6th seed, and Pittsburgh with the 3rd. In my mind, there’s another match up coming between these two teams, and that’s the one I’d like to see the Ravens win if I had to choose. It’s hard to beat anyone 3 times in a season.

All of that of course, was before the game unfolded the way that it did, and no matter how prepared I may have been to accept a loss in that one, nothing could have prepared me for the feeling that I had when it ended as it did.  Still, when it’s all said and done, (God forgive me for saying it) losing on Sunday may have been the best thing for the Ravens and it was definitely the best thing for the NFL.

When the Steelers picked up the win on Sunday, it assured that their meeting with the Titans this week would be meaningful in terms of impact on playoff seeding. The fact that the Texans were able to pick up the win against Tennessee on Sunday makes it even more important, but regardless, either of those circumstances would have given meaning to the Steelers and Titans match up this week. On the other hand if the Ravens and Titans had both won last week, the Titans would have wrapped up home field and could have begun resting starters if they chose to this week.  They also would have almost certainly given a straight vanilla game plan to the Steelers too because of a likely playoff meeting down the line.

The loss on Sunday takes away any margin for error that the Ravens would have enjoyed over the eventual runners up in the AFC East for the wildcard, but also sets up a potential slugfest between the Titans and Steelers this week. That could work in the Ravens best interest ultimately, and absolutely sets up a dream weekend for the NFL execs in week 16.

Also working in the Ravens favor, and the rest of the AFC as well perhaps, is the fact that the Colts’ playoff spot is absolutely certain with a long week leading up to a meaningless week 17 match up with Tennessee. (It’ll be meaningless for the Colts at least; the Titans could still be playing for the top seed in the AFC in week 17) Remember that the Colts are well known for wrapping up their playoff spots early, dialing it down in the final weeks of the season and making disappointing playoff exits. The only time that the Colts actually won it was in 2006 when they had to play through week 17 in order to earn the best possible playoff seed.

If you already believe in the fix, then you don’t need me to convince you that something was up in that game on Sunday. Again, the NFL’s TV interests certainly seem to have been served. If you believe that the outcome on Sunday was influenced by the league’s desire to set up this week’s match up between Tennessee and Pittsburgh tough, than the reason that the Ravens were even in that position was because of their own loss to the Titans in week 5, another game that seemed to turn on an egregious call by the officials. So maybe now they’re due for a break.

They won’t get that break at Dallas on Saturday either though. Dallas on Saturday will probably be a lot like Pittsburgh was on Monday night last season, luckily these Ravens don’t look very much like those Ravens did. If they’re going to pick up a win this week, they’ll need to make their own breaks. There is such a thing as putting the game out of the refs’ hands, and that’s what they’ll have to do to keep their playoff hopes rolling. Otherwise they’ll have to hope to back in to the playoffs, which I still think is a distinct possibility, but hopefully a matter that we won’t even have to discuss.

The road to the Superbowl starts all over again this week for the Ravens, and it’ll take 6 wins to take the prize. The only problem is that the NFL doesn’t offer up any soft  #16 seeds to tune up on, they’ll have to come out of the gate charging like an unlikely #12 seed themselves.

If an “us against the world” mentality is helpful, the Ravens have to be feeling that way after Sunday’s loss. But as I’ve said, there could still be a lot of positives to come from the loss as well.

And if you believe in the fix, then you certainly remember the 2005 Steelers. As I recall, it seemed like the league was ready to get Peyton Manning his ring that time around. The refs seemed to do all that they could to give the game to the Colts in the divisional round against Pittsburgh, but the Steelers managed to make enough plays to take it out of the refs’ hands. Many seem to think that the Steelers were conversely rewarded in the Superbowl that year getting the benefit of some questionable calls against the Seahawks.

Maybe the Ravens will also get a similar boost down the line if they needed it. I wouldn’t hold my breath though. Maybe if someone had told Walt Coleman that the Titans had already lost while he was under that hood on Sunday, we wouldn’t even be discussing any of this.