As painful as it was to witness, sitting home on Thursday night and watching the Pittsburgh Steelers dismantle the hapless Cincinnati Bengals during another god-awful NFL Network telecast got me thinking about where the Ravens really stand in this potential Festivus season of playoff football. The Steelers are now 8-3 and barring any extreme complication they appear to be in the driver’s seat for the AFC North title.
By going out on three days of rest and winning at Heinz Field, the Steelers have cranked up the heat on the Ravens today with their scary matchup against Donovan McNabb and the Eagles here at the Crab Cake.
I don’t think any of us were under the impression that the Ravens were a Super Bowl team, but after a 6-3 start and with four of the final six at home, you’d like to think on paper that anything short of a “play in” game on Dec. 29th would be a massive disappointment. Of course, I’m not even sure 10-6 will get you an automatic berth given the stack up of mediocrity that the AFC seems to be at this point.
It’s been a confusing season for everyone from the bettors to the fantasy players. Week to week, other than the Giants and Titans winning, I don’t ever feel confident about any one team or player making a massive contribution. And the Titans will probably lose today.
I’m equally perplexed about today’s matchup as I sit here writing in the dawn’s early light of a frigid, long day of dealing with drunk idiots from Philadelphia. (Or at least that’s what I expect!)
The Eagles have looked like a January observer for quite some time now, but the Ravens’ obvious weaknesses and injuries are starting to mount. Who will block in the running game and protect Joe Flacco today? Can the likes of O’Neil Cousins step up and help the Ravens to victory? Will Eagles defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson stonewall the purple and confuse the rookie signal caller?
Passing the ball today will be difficult. Before last week’s blustery day at the Meadowlands, the Ravens were the best on the planet at stopping the run. This should be: advantage Ravens.
If the Eagles can’t run the ball (and they might not even try), the Ravens dinged up secondary will become the focal point of the afternoon. If McNabb throws the ball 50 times, can the Ravens force turnovers and make big plays?
This season has been a lot of fun for all of us (especially given where the real world has taken all of our budgets and pocketbooks over the past 10 weeks), but I’m not so sure I can make a serious case that this team will be playing in January if they lose today. It’s not like I’ve been looking into playoff roadtrips just yet.
Today is one of those tests that will tell us if the Ravens are any good. As has been noted all week, the Ravens have lost to every good team they’ve played and beaten all of the dogs of the league.
But just who are the Eagles? Probably one of those teams like the Dolphins that are good enough to be ordinary but veteran enough to beat you. Beating them doesn’t impress me but if they’re 7-4 at the end of the afternoon, they’re in pretty good shape.
If the Ravens can beat a veteran QB at home on a blustery day here to go to 7-4, that would show me something. A loss – especially a bad loss – would make them a very ordinary 6-5 team but with Cincinnati looming next week we would probably continue to extend the party at least for a little while and can still talk playoffs at 7-5.
Win today and you can still talk about a serious playoff hope and/or a divison title.
A loss, and the best you can hope for realistically is a wild card.
I’d say the stakes are high.
Save your energy. It’s gonna be a long day…