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Ravens may not be pretty, but playoff hopes looking bright

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens aren’t a pretty football team.

You’d be hard-pressed to argue that they’re good as they own a mediocre 5-5 record, haven’t won back-to-back games in over two months, and rank 13th in the AFC in strength of victory, a reflection of not owning a single win against a team currently sporting a winning record. Having one of the worst offenses in the NFL certainly doesn’t help the overall perception — or make it any easier to win football games.

But here the Ravens stand holding the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff picture entering Thanksgiving. And a look around the rest of the conference leaves you doubting the capabilities of any others in the “second division” to seriously challenge for that No. 6 seed.

“Win, and it will take care of itself,” said head coach John Harbaugh, whose team plays only two more opponents currently holding winning records the rest of the way. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s happening. We certainly know who does what.”

While their remaining schedule and the ineptitude of other so-called wild-card contenders might be the biggest factors working in the Ravens’ favor entering the final stretch, their defense is certainly playing at a playoff-caliber level after recording its third shutout of the year in Green Bay. No matter who the opposing quarterback is, that’s not a feat to be taken lightly, especially on the road.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and are tied for first in takeaways (23) with Jacksonville. Their second-ranked pass defense is allowing the fewest passing yards per game by a Baltimore unit since 2008. And though the run defense still ranks only 17th in yards per carry allowed, the Ravens have surrendered only 2.94 yards per rushing attempt over the last three games as Brandon Williams has settled back in as the anchor of the defensive line after his four-game absence.

The defense continues to chase consistency — the final touchdown surrendered at Tennessee is a recent exhibit of that — but ranking sixth in the league in yards allowed and third in points surrendered makes a pretty strong case that the group is peaking at the right time and can carry the offense-challenged Ravens to the postseason for the first time in three years. The three shutouts are one shy of the four recorded by the 2000 Ravens, regarded by many as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

“It don’t mean s–t if we don’t make the playoffs,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s good, but if we don’t get in [the playoffs], you all won’t even remember them. It’s a good thing to build on, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep getting these wins.”

Continuing to win would be easier if the league’s 31st-ranked offense can show any semblance of improvement down the stretch. Despite the five-turnover, six-sack output from the defense against the Packers, the Ravens compiled just 219 yards on 57 offensive plays, finished 3-for-14 on third down, and managed only three points off three first-half turnovers at Lambeau Field.

Even without left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the lineup, that’s just not good enough if the Ravens have any visions of making a meaningful playoff run. They must rediscover their running game after averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry in three of their last four games, and it’s going to take much more than the return of running back Danny Woodhead for this passing game to be considered even mediocre.

The defense might be strong enough to carry the Ravens to victory in any of their six remaining games, but the offense is also inept enough to lose each of those contests, making these final six weeks all the more unsettling despite the favorable circumstances.

You can’t and shouldn’t blame quarterback Joe Flacco for all of the offensive struggles, but now would be the time for something more closely resembling “January Joe” to start getting revved up with December rapidly approaching. Even with the many variables working against him, Flacco must be better.

Their third road win of the season and a very favorable environment in the AFC have established the Ravens as clear-cut playoff contenders, but they still have a long way to go to prove they can be any sort of a viable threat to make noise if left standing in January.

Their circumstances for a playoff push may be pretty, but the Ravens certainly aren’t.

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Even at 4-5, Ravens remain in solid shape in mediocre wild-card race

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Many continue to scoff at any mention of the Ravens’ chances in the AFC’s muddled wild-card race.

It’s understandable when focusing exclusively on a 4-5 team that has lost five of its last seven games and ranks last in the NFL in passing offense. A game below .500 less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, the Ravens epitomize mediocrity and hardly look like an outfit capable of going on a meaningful run when they haven’t even won back-to-back games in two months.

But if not the Ravens, who do you like in the race for the second wild card if we’re going to concede Tennessee and Jacksonville — both currently hold two-game leads and head-to-head tiebreakers over Baltimore — as playoff teams out of the AFC South?

Are you really a believer in the 5-4 Buffalo Bills, who just lost their last two games by a combined 50 points and still have two games against New England as well as a trip to Kansas City down the stretch?

Who will grab the final wild-card spot in the AFC?

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What about Miami, who enters Monday night sporting a minus-63 point differential and might have been the most fraudulent 4-2 team ever to come to M&T Bank Stadium a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the Dolphins also have two games remaining with the Patriots as well as trips to Kansas City and Buffalo on their schedule.

Oakland might be the most talented team of the mediocre bunch vying for the No. 6 seed, but a 4-5 record, remaining games against New England, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, and three road games in four weeks to conclude the regular season create a hell of a mountain to climb. The Raiders will certainly deserve it if they’re the last team standing.

And, oh yeah, the Ravens own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dolphins and the Raiders if it comes to that.

In contrast, Baltimore plays only three more teams currently sporting winning records. And one of those is deceiving with Brett Hundley now leading the way for Green Bay after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury last month.

Four of the seven remaining contests come against teams with a backup or rookie currently playing quarterback.

Of course, the Ravens must show some improvement the rest of the way to take advantage of one of their most advantageous schedules in recent memory. It sounds great to say they could be favored in each of their remaining games aside from the Dec. 10 trip to Pittsburgh, but the Ravens have also played poorly enough at times this season to consider any of those a potential loss.

No, you don’t have to like the Ravens’ playoff chances to accept their odds being better than the other middling teams in the AFC pack. It’s just reality in a conference with little separation once you move past the three teams at the top.

The Ravens haven’t been a good team, but they may not have to be good to make the playoffs. They just have to be a smidge better than the rest of the mediocre bunch.

It couldn’t set up much better on paper for them to do that.

Time will tell if they’re capable enough to take advantage.

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suggs

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Sizing up Ravens’ playoff picture entering Week 16

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were lucky not to have their playoff hopes all but squashed on Sunday, but their 27-26 win over Philadelphia leaves them with an 8-6 record and multiple paths to the postseason.

The first is clear while the others involve assistance from other teams.

Winning road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would give the Ravens their first AFC North division title since the 2012 season. Of course, that would require Baltimore to win its first games on the road since September.

Many are hyping the Christmas Day showdown at Heinz Field as an AFC North championship game, but it’s not enough for the Ravens to merely win on Sunday. The Steelers host the winless Cleveland Browns in their regular-season finale, meaning the Ravens would almost certainly need to win a road game against the Bengals for the first time since 2011 in order to secure the division championship.

A path to a wild card also remains — at least for now.

The Ravens completed Week 15 a game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. A win for the 9-5 Dolphins at Buffalo on Christmas Eve would force Baltimore to beat the Steelers to stave off elimination for a playoff spot. A Miami loss would keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive in Week 17, no matter what happens against Pittsburgh.

Despite the daunting task of playing their two biggest division rivals on the road in consecutive weeks, the Ravens do have a 7-3 conference record working in their favor as a tiebreaker over fellow playoff contenders Tennessee, Denver, and Houston. Of course, Baltimore owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins via the 38-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.

Currently competing for the AFC South title, the Texans and the Titans meet in Week 17, meaning one is set to lose at least one more game.

If the Ravens are to make the playoffs while losing one more game, they would need the Dolphins to lose out and the other 8-6 wild-card contenders to each lose at least one more game.

Below is a look at the remaining schedule for the Ravens and the other contenders for the final wild card in the AFC:

PITTSBURGH (9-5, first place in AFC North)
Remaining opponents: Baltimore, Cleveland

HOUSTON (8-6, first place in AFC South via head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee)
Remaining opponents: Cincinnati, at Tennessee

MIAMI (9-5, No. 6 seed)
Remaining opponents: at Buffalo, New England

BALTIMORE (8-6, seventh in AFC via conference record)
Remaining opponents: at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati

TENNESSEE (8-6, eighth in AFC via head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver)
Remaining opponents: at Jacksonville, Houston

DENVER (8-6, ninth in AFC)
Remaining opponents: at Kansas City, Oakland

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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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Will Graves on the red hot Steelers invading M&T Bank

Posted on 22 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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John Eisenberg talks all things Black and Purple

Posted on 22 December 2015 by WNST Audio

 

 

 

 

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Dennis Koulatsos weighs in on Ravens embarrassing loss to Kansas City

Posted on 22 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Portrait: SI
Headshot: Peter King
SI Studio/New York, NY, USA
6/28/2013
X156705 TK1
Credit: Carlos M. Saavedra

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Peter King talks Ravens biggest offseason needs

Posted on 22 December 2015 by WNST Audio

Portrait: SI Headshot: Peter King SI Studio/New York, NY, USA 6/28/2013 X156705 TK1 Credit: Carlos M. Saavedra

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Ed Bouchette weighs in on all things Black and Gold

Posted on 21 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Ray Fittipaldo dissects Ravens-Steelers pivotal showdown

Posted on 21 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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