Tag Archive | "afc north"

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Ravens trying to turn back clock against New England

Posted on 09 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can sense the confidence in the Ravens locker room this week.

Winners of four of their last five games and coming off their most impressive performance of the season, the Ravens are suddenly being discussed as a viable threat in the AFC. And while a trip to Gillette Stadium to take on New England won’t be easy, they’re hardly walking into uncharted territory on Monday night.

Few teams have approached the kind of success the Ravens have enjoyed against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. Of their four postseason meetings in Foxborough, the Ravens own two  victories and their two losses came by a combined seven points.

This marks the first regular-season meeting between these teams in New England since 2010.

“When you have not experienced it much, I think they are a team that can intimidate some people,” Flacco said. “But I don’t think that is us. I think that we have done it enough that we feel good about doing it. We have had good teams. We have always had good teams going up there and a bunch of guys that feel that way and have felt that we can win the game. I think that always helps.”

But how much weight does the past carry?

Only 11 players on the current team were with the organization when the Ravens last beat New England in the 2012 AFC championship game. That group includes Flacco, six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Jimmy Smith, and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Of course, players have come and gone on the New England side as well, but future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady have just continued winning.

The last meeting between these teams took place in the 2014 divisional round when Baltimore squandered two different 14-point leads in a 35-31 defeat. Since then, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl and appeared in another conference championship game while the Ravens have gone 12-16 and are trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

This game is not only an opportunity for the Ravens to improve their playoff standing, but it’s a chance to show the football world that they’re back among the serious contenders. Young players such as receiver Breshad Perriman and left tackle Ronnie Stanley will also have their first opportunity to make names for themselves against the Patriots.

“You can’t really transfer experience,” Harbaugh said. “We try to prepare them for what’s going to happen in the next game and prepare them for that as best we can. The past games aren’t a part of this game. It’s the next game, and it’s the one we’re focusing on.”

Win or lose, the Ravens need to show they can compete with a heavyweight like New England on the road as they haven’t won away from M&T Bank Stadium since September 25. With another road showdown looming at Heinz Field against Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, an offense that’s been below average this year must prove last week’s explosion against Miami was more than just a pleasant aberration.

The last time these teams met in the regular season was in 2013 when the Ravens were riding a four-game winning streak and trying to recover from a rough start not terribly different from this year’s. Like we’ve seen this week, the hype was growing before the Patriots came to Baltimore and won by 34 points. The Ravens lost again the following week and missed the playoffs.

Baltimore is the healthier team now without a single defensive player on this week’s injury report while All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is gone for the season and wide receiver Danny Amendola is not expected to play for the Patriots on Monday. The Ravens also sport their best defense since future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were still playing at a high level.

This may not be a must-win game for Baltimore, but it’s an opportunity to send a warning to the rest of the AFC. And it’s a chance to reestablish one of the league’s best rivalries despite the Ravens getting sidetracked over the better part of the last 15 months.

“You’re a fan of football,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Being in San Diego the last few years and not being in the playoffs, you watch those games from afar and are envious of wanting to play in them. Now is my opportunity. It should be a great game.”

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Ravens in position to take advantage of down AFC North

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens haven’t really looked the part of a division champion through the first nine games of the season.

They didn’t win a game in the month of October.

The offensive line can’t stay healthy and the offense ranks in the NFL’s bottom 10 in most statistical categories.

Three of their five victories have come against two teams who’ve gone a combined 2-17.

Their highly-paid quarterback has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns and is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career.

And yet the 5-4 Ravens are in sole possession of first place and have the only winning record in the AFC North entering the latter half of November. Flawed as they might be, the rest of a struggling division envies Baltimore’s position with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

Since divisional realignment took place in 2002, the champion of the AFC North hasn’t won fewer than 10 games. Including the history of the old AFC Central, you’d have to go back to 1990 when Cincinnati went 9-7 to find a division champion with fewer than 10 wins.

Barring dramatic improvement from Baltimore, Pittsburgh (4-5), or Cincinnati (3-5-1) over the final seven games, no team appears likely to reach that 10-win plateau. It’s no sure thing that anyone even reaches nine wins, either, especially when you’re reminded that the Ravens still have to face four non-division teams currently sporting winning records.

With the Bengals’ loss to the New York Giants on Monday night, the AFC North fell to 7-19-1 in non-division games in 2016. Even removing winless Cleveland from the equation, the AFC North holds the worst winning percentage in non-division games among the NFL’s eight divisions.

In short, it’s been a bad year for a proud division that’s sent at least two teams to the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. But the Ravens are in solid position to take advantage of the mediocrity.

John Harbaugh’s team faces a difficult task playing at Dallas on Sunday, but three of Baltimore’s next four games after that will be played at M&T Bank Stadium. Winning all three of those home games against Cincinnati, Miami, and Philadelphia would put the Ravens in position to finish 9-7 if they can win just one more road game down the stretch. The Christmas Day game at Pittsburgh would be the most meaningful from a potential tie-breaking standpoint.

The offense is likely to remain the Ravens’ Achilles heel with the injuries along the offensive line, but a defense ranking first in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and third-down defense and ranking in the top five in several other statistical categories is eager to prove it belongs among the more special groups in franchise history. The Ravens will have their chance to show it with several tough opponents on the horizon.

The path will be difficult, but it’s looking better than the rest of a down AFC North at the moment.

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Eight days change outlook of season for Ravens

Posted on 13 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Just over a week ago, the Ravens were coming off the bye with their season dangerously close to circling the drain before Thanksgiving.

Two victories and two Pittsburgh losses later, Baltimore wakes up Monday in sole possession of first place in the AFC North. That winless October now feels like a long time ago as the 5-4 Ravens are the only team in the division above .500.

Even if you still aren’t ready to believe in the Ravens with their well-known issues, the Steelers (4-5) are now in the midst of their own four-game losing streak after falling to Dallas in the closing seconds at Heinz Field on Sunday. It wasn’t a divisional showdown like the Ravens’ 21-14 win over Pittsburgh the previous week, but the game felt no less pivotal for the struggling Steelers, who will now play four of their next five on the road.

The Steelers were considered the early class of the division after winning four of their first five, but that is no longer the case in mid-November as Ezekiel Elliott’s last-second touchdown changed the landscape of the AFC North on Sunday evening.

The attention now shifts to Cincinnati’s Monday road game against the New York Giants as a win would move the Bengals (3-4-1) into sole possession of second place. In two weeks, the Ravens will try to snap their five-game losing streak against the Bengals that dates back to the 2013 season.

Of course, seven weeks remain in the regular season with the Ravens playing road games against two first-place teams — Dallas and New England — and against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the final two weeks. Their final two home games come against Miami and Philadelphia, who both own winning records and are better than anyone expected them to be at the start of the season.

No matter how mediocre the rest of the division looks, it still won’t be easy for Baltimore.

The Ravens’ problems on offense can’t be dismissed despite a 22-point second-half outburst against Cleveland on Thursday, but a very strong defense and the Steelers’ struggles suddenly make the path to a division title appear less daunting. Pittsburgh will have an easier task next week with a road game against the winless Browns while the Ravens must play at one-loss Dallas, but Baltimore will be firmly in the division mix at Thanksgiving no matter what the Steelers and Bengals do.

You can’t ask for more than that after losing four straight in October.

The chances of a wild card appear bleak for any AFC North team with the AFC West currently sporting three seven-win teams, but a 9-7 record is looking more and more like the mark to win the division.

And even with the difficult remaining schedule, that goal looks more attainable after a fruitful eight days for the Ravens.

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Fresh off their bye, Ravens have no choice but to get well quickly

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to work Monday aiming to start anew.

Using a much-needed bye week to get their bodies and minds right after a winless October, they won’t have long to wait to set the tone for the second half of the season. Playing two games in a five-day period is always a challenge, but those contests are against familiar AFC North foes — a de facto first-place Pittsburgh team that could be without Ben Roethlisberger followed by winless Cleveland — both at M&T Bank Stadium.

It certainly could be worse from a scheduling standpoint with the Ravens able to get a head start on the game plans for both opponents during the bye.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the good timing of the condensed stretch, but the urgency is clear if the Ravens want to make something out of the remainder of the 2016 season.

“I want to knock some of this disappointment off,” said Harbaugh as Baltimore still carries a four-game losing streak. “This is something you carry around with you. It’s not what you want. It is not the goal. The goal is to win these games and have the kind of record that you think reflects how hard you have worked.”

Despite falling to 3-4 after a 3-0 start in September, the Ravens and their fans have cited the wide-open nature of the division with the Steelers sporting the only winning record as reason for optimism. A win on Sunday propels Baltimore into a first-place tie with a chance to then move back over .500 against the woeful Browns just four nights later.

It gets tougher after that for the Ravens, however, while the schedule softens for both the Steelers and second-place Cincinnati.

Baltimore’s remaining nine opponents sport a .522 winning percentage with the four road foes — Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — owning a combined .683 mark. The challenging second-half schedule was why so many opined that the Ravens needed to win at least five of their first seven games, but that potential margin for error is long gone.

Meanwhile, the Steelers’ remaining schedule sports a winning percentage of just .396 with their five road opponents a combined 13-25-1. After a Nov. 13 meeting with the NFC East-leading Cowboys at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh has just one more game on its schedule against a team currently above .500.

If the Steelers can tread water until Roethlisberger returns to good health — a big if with three of their next four games on the road — they are the consensus favorite to win the division, making Sunday’s game even more crucial for the Ravens.

The Bengals have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-4-1 start, but their eight remaining opponents have combined for a .458 winning percentage and their four road opponents are just 12-18. Cincinnati hasn’t looked nearly as formidable as it did a year ago, but each of its four losses has come against a first-place team.

Winning the division is always the goal, but that’s especially true in a year in which the AFC West currently holds three teams with just two losses each, making that division the mid-season favorite to claim the two wild-card spots. Of course, there’s plenty of football to be played across the league, but counting on enough mediocrity elsewhere to sneak in as a 9-7 wild card could be a particularly tricky recipe this season.

That’s why the Ravens must win the next two games to not only eliminate the foul taste of October from their palates but to begin stacking enough wins ahead of a brutal final month that features road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. The last two road defeats to the New York Giants and New York Jets were painful enough, but Harbaugh made it clear on Monday how critical the next two contests in the Ravens’ home building are.

“We need to win these games,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where they are being played. We needed to win the two on the road the last two weeks; we didn’t. We need to win these at home.”

The remainder of the season depends on it.

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2016 season

Posted on 29 October 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s been a tale of two months for the Ravens.

A 3-0 September brought much optimism before an 0-4 October littered with injuries dramatically changed the tone of the season. All seven games were decided by a single possession, but offensive struggles, costly penalties, and questionable decision-making should have everyone — the front office, coaches, and players — feeling the heat as the Ravens face the prospects of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, which hasn’t happened since Brian Billick was fired at the end of 2007.

There is reason for optimism, however, with the Ravens trailing first-place Pittsburgh by just one game in the AFC North and still having five division games ahead. On the flip side, five of their final nine games come against teams currently sporting winning records and only one — their Week 10 meeting with Cleveland — is against a team with a worst record than their own 3-4 mark entering the weekend.

While inviting you to laugh at my preseason prophecies for the 2016 Ravens, I offer five updated predictions for the second half of the 2016 season …

1. Joe Flacco will throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career and bounce back somewhat from a rough first half. It’s no secret that Flacco has struggled behind an injury-riddled offensive line and without top receiver Steve Smith, but some help should come after the bye. A more consistent running game is a must as Flacco is on pace to finish with a career-high 704 passing attempts and is averaging a career-worst 5.96 yards per attempt. If the Ravens offense can keep their starting line on the field, Flacco should be able to improve his efficiency with fewer attempts and more runs. That said, it will be ironic that he’ll finally eclipse the 4,000-yard mark in one of his worst seasons.

2. Darren Waller will emerge as a surprise offensive weapon in the second half. Many have discussed Kenneth Dixon taking on a bigger role, but Terrance West has done all he can to cement his status as the starter for now, which may limit the rookie’s opportunities until he can show the explosiveness he had in the summer. This offense is in need of presenting tougher matchup problems, and Waller seems to be a solid candidate as a former receiver with good size and athleticism at the tight end position. Dennis Pitta’s comeback has been a great story, but Waller has more big-play upside at this point and could be an intriguing weapon inside the red zone, an area where Baltimore has struggled.

3. The Ravens will snap their drought against Cincinnati, but road woes will cost them the rest of the way. It’s been nearly three full calendar years since Baltimore beat the Bengals, but Marvin Lewis’ team has had its own issues this season and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. In a few weeks, the Ravens will snap their five-game losing streak against a Bengals team not sporting as much talent as in recent years. However, road games against Dallas, New England, and Pittsburgh spell bad news for a team with little margin for error despite starting 2-0 on the road. The Ravens have shown little evidence this season of being capable of beating a good team on the road.

4. Jimmy Smith will continue to recapture his 2013-14 form with a strong second half. Lost in the disappointment of the losing streak has been the recent improvement of Smith, who played well against Odell Beckham Jr. — who exploded only after Smith sustained a concussion — and Brandon Marshall in the last two games. This might be the best the 2011 first-round pick has looked since before his 2014 foot surgery. No matter how the Ravens fare the rest of the way, Smith needs to play at a high level as he is slated to carry the second-highest salary cap figure on the team in 2017. This organization can’t afford to have another high-priced contract fail them like others have over the last few years.

5. The Ravens will lament their winless October as they finish with a 7-9 record. Baltimore isn’t as bad as its four-game losing streak reflects, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens will improve enough to qualify for the playoffs as they try to stay healthy after the bye. Yes, they’re in every game with 21 of their last 23 contests decided by only one score, but isn’t that a textbook profile of a .500 team? This roster is too dependent on aging players now struggling to stay healthy and doesn’t have enough high-impact young players ready to be a part of the next great Ravens team. The current team isn’t special and doesn’t show much evidence of being on the verge of something special, which is a frustrating place for a proud organization to be.

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Ravens to play two prime-time games as part of 2016 schedule

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Coming off the first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens will be featured in just two prime-time games in 2016, but they will be featured in a Christmas Day game against rival Pittsburgh.

Baltimore opens its 21st season at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Sept. 11 and will play six of its first seven games against teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs a year ago. It’s a favorable start to the schedule after the Ravens played five of their first seven games on the road last season — four of them played out west.

The Ravens will host the Cleveland Browns for a Thursday night game on Nov. 10 and will travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in a Monday night game on Dec. 12. They have not hosted a Monday night game since 2012 and will now have played 10 of their last 11 Monday contests on the road.

Despite having only two prime-time games — their lowest scheduled total since 2006 — the Ravens will take part in one of only two games scheduled for Christmas Day when they travel to Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. This will mark the first time Baltimore has played on Dec. 25 since hosting Minnesota on Christmas night in 2005.

That game will be the first of two AFC North road games to conclude the regular season as the defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals will host the Ravens in Week 17. It will be a very challenging final quarter of the season with road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and the only home game over the span coming against Philadelphia on Dec. 18.

The 2016 schedule certainly provides convenient options for fans to see the Ravens on the road as they play both the NFC East and the AFC East this season.

The bye will fall in Week 8.

The Ravens will play six games against playoff teams from last season: Pittsburgh (twice), Cincinnati (twice), New England, and Washington. Baltimore has eight games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2015: Cleveland (twice), Miami, Oakland, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, the New York Giants, and Dallas.

For now, 13 of the Ravens’ 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. starts, but many of those games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2016 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Fresh off an invitation to the Pro Bowl, former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor returning to Baltimore should make for an interesting opening week.

Sunday, Sept. 18 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: They’re still the Browns, but the Ravens needed a blocked field goal return for a touchdown last year to avoid being swept by Cleveland for the first time since 2007.

Sunday, Sept. 25 at Jacksonville Jaguars — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: It’s hard to believe this was one of the more compelling rivalries of the Ravens’ early years, but the Jaguars won at M&T Bank Stadium last year and have some promising talent.

Sunday, Oct. 2 vs. Oakland Raiders — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Raiders being on the scheduled used to feel like a homecoming game, but that’s no longer the case with a young and talented roster that now includes ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele.

Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Washington Redskins — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The Ravens have lost two games to Washington in their 20-year history and have gone on to win the Super Bowl in each of those seasons, but both of those defeats came on the road.

Sunday, Oct. 16 at New York Giants — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Giants have a new head coach in Ben McAdoo and spent a ton of money on their defense, but time is running short for Eli Manning to win his third Super Bowl.

Sunday, Oct. 23 at New York Jets — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: A trip to MetLife Stadium for a second straight week is an interesting scheduling quirk, but Baltimore has won eight straight games against the Jets.

 Sunday, Oct. 30 — BYE

Sunday, Nov. 6 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Mike Tomlin’s team is the early favorite to win the division, but the Ravens took plenty of satisfaction in sweeping Pittsburgh last year in the midst of a difficult season.

Thursday, Nov. 10 vs. Cleveland Browns — 8:25 p.m. (NFL Network)
Skinny: Former Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was a good hire by Cleveland, but it remains to be seen whether ownership will give him enough time to succeed there.

Sunday, Nov. 20 at Dallas Cowboys — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens closed Texas Stadium with a victory over the Cowboys in 2008 and will hope for a similar result in their first regular-season trip to the massive AT&T Stadium.

Sunday, Nov. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens have dropped five straight to Cincinnati, but you can’t help but feel last year was the Bengals’ best chance to finally win their first playoff game in 25 years.

Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. Miami Dolphins — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: After traveling to Miami in each of the last three seasons, the Ravens will welcome the warm-weather Dolphins and new head coach Adam Gase to Baltimore in early December.

Monday, Dec. 12 at New England Patriots — 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: It was strange not seeing these teams meet last year after running into each other in the regular season or playoffs in the six previous seasons.

Sunday, Dec. 18 Philadelphia Eagles — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The only tie in Ravens history came against the Eagles in a 10-10 final in 1997 that had fans from both cities arguing which team was worse as they exited Memorial Stadium.

Sunday, Dec. 25 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 4:30 p.m. (NFL Network)
Skinny: These teams aren’t scheduled to play a prime-time game for the first time since the 2006 season, but a rare meeting on Christmas Day still qualifies as a high-profile showdown.

Sunday, Jan. 1 at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Is there an NFL bylaw requiring the Ravens to close the regular season at Paul Brown Stadium as they will now have done in five of the last six years?

Notes: In a move that was initiated two years ago, flexible scheduling can now be applied in Weeks 5 through 9. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by moving a Sunday afternoon game into prime time and moving the Sunday night game to the afternoon.

Another recently-implemented wrinkle will be a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring some games to wider audiences.

Flexible scheduling will still be used in Weeks 10 through 15 and Week 17 — Week 16 is locked in due to the Christmas holiday — as it has been in past years. In Weeks 10-15, the master schedule lists games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the originally-scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon time.

Flexible scheduling cannot be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday, or Monday nights.

A scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Jan. 1.

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Coach Billick on the Ravens wild finish in Cleveland

Posted on 02 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Baltimore, Md. -- 11/20/2011 -- Matt Stover, former kicker for the Baltimore Ravens points skyward like he used to do following field goal attempts, during halftime festivities to place his name in the Ravens' Ring of Honor Sun, Nov. 20, 2011. The Ravens won, 31-24, seizing first place in a critical AFC matchup. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun Staff) [FBN BENGALS RAVENS (_D3S2838.JPG)]

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Matt Stover weighs in on Ravens late game heroics against the Browns

Posted on 01 December 2015 by WNST Audio

Baltimore, Md. -- 11/20/2011 -- Matt Stover, former kicker for the Baltimore Ravens points skyward like he used to do following field goal attempts, during halftime festivities to place his name in the Ravens' Ring of Honor Sun, Nov. 20, 2011. The Ravens won, 31-24, seizing first place in a critical AFC matchup. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun Staff) [FBN BENGALS RAVENS (_D3S2838.JPG)]

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Dennis Koulatsos weighs in on the “kick six” in Cleveland

Posted on 01 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Brian Dulik dissects Ravens-Browns divisional showdown

Posted on 24 November 2015 by WNST Staff

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