The Ravens haven’t even quite reached the final quarter of this season yet, but already it’s been a memorable one, full of excitement and surprises. No matter how purple your glasses may be, or how much of the Kool Aid you were drinking this off-season, there are likely few among us who could credibly stand up and say that this season is playing out the way that we expected.
With a rookie head coach, and a rookie QB, both of whom have performed above and beyond all reasonable expectations to this point, the Ravens find themselves in a position that most of us could have only dreamed of prior to the start of this season. Additionally, the seeming shift of power in the league in general has left the door wide open for an upstart, as only the Giants seem to be performing up to expectations among what had been considered the NFL’s elite.
It’s certainly too early to begin making your reservations for Tampa just yet. But much like to 2002 team, this surprising bunch appears likely to be playing meaningful games into the final weeks of the season at the very least. So now as the season draws near to a close, we as fans begin the neurotic practice of running through scenarios in our heads, of how things could or should fall in our favor over the season’s remaining weeks.
In baseball they call it scoreboard watching, but baseball is different. With games happening every night, it’s often impossible to fully start to fathom potential scenarios until the final days of the season. Or because of the number of games, some races are decided with seemingly months remaining in the season. In football though, with just one game per week, and a seemingly more predictable results from game to game, we can’t help but run through the scenarios endlessly in our heads during the days leading up to each winter Sunday.
As Ravens fans, I think most if us expected the schedule to be a difficult one, but that was just from the traditional sense of who the Ravens would have to face from week to week. As the season plays out, and the Ravens continue to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt, we as fans suddenly have a lot more of a rooting interest in games that impact the Ravens, but don’t specifically involve them.
As fans, we tend to believe, against all conventional logic, that somehow our prayers, karma, rituals or mojo can actually influence the outcome of the games we watch. And therefore it’s important to know whom it is that you want to win a particular game, so that you can send out the proper vibes to help your team.
Already in this young season, I have been forced to sit in front of the TV and passionately encourage the efforts of such hated teams as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington and Indianapolis as they went against the Steelers. At one point having to stoop so low as to cheer for both the Colts and Redskins within a span of 6 days.
So now, with playoff hopes clearly on the line for the Ravens, this week’s match up between the Patriots and Steelers has added importance in the Ravens hopes for reaching the playoffs themselves. Therefore it’s important before the game begins, for me to figure out just who I’d like to see win this one.
Both teams are easy enough to hate on. After all, in order to inspire hate, you usually have to achieve some degree of success; both teams certainly fit that bill. On the surface, it’d be easy to say I’d rather see Pittsburgh lose, they are our divisional rival, and winning the division guarantees a playoff berth, so I’d rather see them lose and fall into an effective tie with the Ravens if Baltimore beats the Bengals on Sunday too. And the Steelers have certainly given us plenty of reasons to hate them over the years.
The Patriots however, have taken success to another whole level. Their recent success is unparalleled in the salary cap era, and most of us still have a little bit of a sting leftover from the heartbreaking loss that they put on the Ravens last year. If you need more reasons to hate them consider that they fleeced Ozzie Newsome in the Boller trade, getting Vince Wilfork and Asante Samuel with the Ravens draft picks. And they’re the team that signed Adalius Thomas away from the Ravens too, although the last laugh may be the Ravens’ in that one.
It’s probably best to try and take all of the emotion out of it, and look at it rationally, mathematically. Looking at the Ravens remaining schedule, winning out seems unlikely, making the specific scenarios tough to predict, but we’ll try.
If the Patriots were to get the win on Sunday, it’d put the Steelers at 8-4, and in a likely tie with Baltimore. Since the first tiebreaker is head to head, the Ravens would need to beat Pittsburgh in Baltimore to have a shot at the division. Doing that would give the Ravens a 1 game lead, thereby facilitating their margin for error and negating the first tiebreaker. Even with that, the Ravens would have to either win out, or hope for the Steelers to drop yet another game in order to win the North.
That’s because, assuming a tie, with the first tie breaker (head-to-head) thrown out, the second tiebreaker (divisional record) would likely be thrown out too with both teams likely 5-1. The third tiebreaker is common opponents. Since the Ravens and Steelers only have 2 uncommon opponents, the Steelers would win this tiebreaker too. If they finish tied, the Ravens will have beaten both uncommon opponents (Miami and Oakland), while Pittsburgh will have one (New England). Therefore Pittsburgh would still have a game advantage in common opponents if they finish tied.
If the Steelers were to win, on the other hand, the Ravens would have a full game lead on everyone for the second wildcard spot (presuming they beat the Bengals), and leaving them at least 1 game ahead of every other AFC wildcard hopeful in conference wins (the first tie breaker). Furthermore, given the chance to take either the Patriots or Steelers out of the playoff picture in the AFC, I’ll strike New England. This isn’t the high-powered air show that they had last season, but these Patriots are looking more and more like the 2001 team with each passing week. In the playoffs, I’d guess that they’d rather see Pittsburgh, it’s their comfort zone, no surprises, just line it up and do what they do, twice a year, every year.
The machismo Ravens fan in me wants to get up on Sunday pulling for the Ravens at 1 and the Patriots at 4. But the realist in me says that it’s probably better for the Ravens if Pittsburgh wins this game. The Ravens would still have a chance to pull even in 2 weeks (although still behind by virtue of common opponents), and then let the chips fall where they may. I’m sure that the bounce of the ball, or more appropriately this season, the blown or missed call will provide us with a few curveballs before the end of the season anyway. It usually works out that way.
But for now, and for this week only, I’m pullin’ for yins. It’s the measles or the mumps, and this week I’m riding with the measles. It’ll be a miserable time from 4-7 on Sunday in my house, and there’s no way that my wife is ever going to understand. But as fans we must do what we must do, and this week, I’m taking one for the team. We as fans have a responsibility to throw our mojo around correctly after all.
I’d root for a tie, but I think that McNabb blew the cover on that one. We probably won’t be seeing another one this season. But that probably would be the best-case scenario; nobody wins, except for Ravens fans.