For a fan, the bye week is usually the toughest week of the football season. For Ravens fans this year though, this is no regular football season.
Too may fans, I think, got caught up in the week-by-week “do they look like a Super Bowl team?” blues to truly enjoy what wound up being exactly that, a season that ended with a Super Bowl victory. And at 3-4 and limping into their bye, the Ravens have given fans plenty of reasons to forget their post-championship euphoria and get right back to week-by-week swings of emotion and hope.
Truth be told, teams in this league, given the restraints of the salary cap and the physical toll of injuries, aren’t supposed to enjoy a period of sustained success like the Ravens have over the last 5 years. So if this winds up being the year where their string of playoff appearances comes to an end, it’s probably about time. Fans should just take it in stride, thank the team…and the football gods…for the enjoyment they’ve provided and hope that they’re able to rebound quickly (which history suggests is realistic).
Now though, is not quite the time to give up hope, and the bye week provided fans all of the evidence that they needed to believe just that.
The first key to maintaining your sanity as a Ravens fan this year is to change your perspective. Old habits die hard, but if you learn to embrace a new way of looking at things, you might be surprised at just how hopeful this season can still be.
So, as of this moment, and until further notice, it’s time to abandon any hope of the Ravens winning their division. Cincinnati just appears too strong, and they still may only be on the brink of playing their best football. Now the Ravens still have 2 shots at the Bengals, which could change everything. The first is at home, which is always hopeful, and the second could come at a point where both teams’ playoff fates are already sealed, as they were last year. Should the Ravens handle their business against the Bengals, they could still have a shot at the division title, but allowing that hope to drive your expectations and determine your state of mind in the second half of the season still seems a bit dangerous, and overly ambitious.
If you concede the driver’s seat in the division to Cincinnati, and concede as well the likelihood that the 2nd place finisher in the AFC West (Denver or Kansas City) is a virtual lock for the first wildcard spot, it leaves you hoping for…no…laser focused on the 2nd wildcard as the gateway to the 2013 playoffs. Whether the Ravens are performing at a Super Bowl level or not, we’ve all seen what scrappy wildcards can accomplish when they get a few breaks in the playoffs.
So if you take the divisional leaders, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New England, and even Cincinnati, out of the equation as well as the Denver Broncos, your left competing for a single playoff spot with San Diego (4-3), the Jets (4-4), Miami, Tennessee and Oakland (all 3-4), Buffalo and Cleveland (3-5) and even Pittsburgh and Houston (2-5). There’s nothing scary about that group at all.
So you may, as a Ravens fan, have to bury some old hatchets, and learn to revel in the successes of the the Colts, and Patriots, and Bengals, and if they continue to lose enough, even the Steelers, if you hope to maintain your sanity (and clarity) in the second half of what’s already been a trying season. From that perspective, the Ravens had a great weekend in week 8, despite not playing.
Now hopefully they’ll take some momentum into Cleveland next week. Needing an extra edge against the Browns is another foreign concept in Ravens football. The times, they’re changing, but playoff expectations don’t necessarily have to.