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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Renewing what was once a fierce rivalry in the days of the AFC Central, the Ravens welcome the Tennessee Titans to Baltimore for their first meeting since the 2011 season.

In recent years, the Ravens and Titans have gone in opposite directions with Baltimore consistently being one of the better teams in the AFC and Tennessee not having made the playoffs since 2008. This season has been no different as the 5-4 Ravens are still in the playoff hunt despite losing two straight while the Titans have struggled to a 2-6 record under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Coming off their bye, the Titans have lost six of seven and have handed the reins of their offense to a sixth-round rookie quarterback. In contrast, the Ravens hope to regain some momentum going into their bye as they try to find answers in the secondary following the season-ending loss of cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Sunday marks the 18th regular-season meeting between Baltimore and Tennessee with the Titans holding a 9-8 advantage. The series in Baltimore is tied 4-4 with Tennessee coming to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since the 2008 season.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 6-4 and keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Lardarius Webb will record his first interception of the 2014 season. The Ravens surviving in the secondary would be easier if Webb begins playing more like he did a couple years ago when he was emerging as one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC before his second ACL injury. He acknowledged this week that he needs to step up his performance after moving back into a full-time role over the last month. The Ravens’ only interception in the secondary this year was made by Smith against Tampa Bay, but more opportunities will come against Zach Mettenberger and the rookie will be pressured into making a bad throw that Webb will take advantage of.

2. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will pick up a sack, but the Baltimore offensive line will bounce back from last week’s showing in Pittsburgh. The Ravens were poor in pass protection last week with Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, and Kelechi Osemele all struggling against the Steelers’ rush, and Casey is one of the best 3-technique defensive linemen in the NFL. Slowing him will be a challenge, but Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and Osemele will be ready as the Ravens will do a better job protecting Joe Flacco. The defensive front is one of the Titans’ biggest strengths, but the Ravens won’t be caught by surprise like they were with a turn-back-the-clock performance by James Harrison last week.

3. Justin Forsett will go over the century mark for the second time this year as the Ravens rush for a season-high 175 yards. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak spoke earlier this week about the inability to run the ball as effectively against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so expect the Ravens to try to exploit the league’s 28th-ranked run defense. Baltimore will be aggressive to establish a lead before turning it over to the running game with Forsett being the most trustworthy of the backs. In the first half of their last two games, the Ravens carried 30 times for 103 yards before needing to essentially abandon the run in the second half, but they’ll be effective running between the tackles throughout Sunday’s game.

4. Zach Mettenberger will throw two touchdowns, but the damage won’t come until the second half. Much like they did against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago, the Ravens will bring pressure and play strong defense in the first half to hold a sizable lead before loosening the reins in the final 30 minutes, which will lead to some opportunities for Mettenberger. The rookie has some decent weapons in tight end Delanie Walker and young receivers Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright, so Sunday will offer a low-pressure tuneup for the likes of Danny Gorrer and Tramain Jacobs in the secondary. A porous offensive line will make it a long first half for Mettenberger before the Ravens call off the dogs and sit back in coverage with a big lead.

5. The Ravens will feel better about themselves going into the bye week with a 31-16 win over Tennessee. This game might make you nervous if it were being played in Nashville, but the Ravens just don’t lose home games to bad football teams with rookie quarterbacks, which is what the Titans are. Playing in Baltimore will help Flacco and the offense bounce back after a couple rough weeks and the Ravens will take better care of the football. The secondary will have a respectable effort, but there won’t be much to take away from this game as the coaching staff will try to figure things out in the back end during the off-week. Their issues are obvious, but a 6-4 record still keeps the Ravens in decent position for a postseason run.

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Harbaugh expects Jimmy Smith to return “even better” next year

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expressing confidence that his secondary would move past the season-ending loss of Jimmy Smith, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh offered a few more details about the procedure the top cornerback underwent Thursday.

Smith visited orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. after the swelling had subsided in his left foot that was injured against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26. Further testing revealed Smith would not be able to return in 2014 as the Ravens hoped when Harbaugh initially said he’d miss a few weeks.

“Listen, I’m not a doctor. I go by what they tell me,” Harbaugh said. “A Lisfranc [injury] is a tear, I guess, in the ligament. There’s not a tear. There’s a stretch, and when the swelling went down, they did a weight-bearing exam. There’s more of a spread between the bones than they wanted, so more of a stretch than what they were hoping for. And when they put him under anesthesia and took a look at it, Dr. Anderson decided to go ahead and do the surgery.”

The loss of Smith is a major blow for a pass defense currently ranking 24th in the NFL and giving up 263 yards per game through the air. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 94.0 passer rating against the Ravens, which is the 12th-highest in the league.

Several teammates expressed disappointment for Smith, who was blossoming into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season after a strong, injury-free 2013 campaign. In eight games, the 26-year-old had registered 28 tackles, eight pass breakups, and an interception while opposing passers had completed just 20 of 39 passes for no touchdowns against him in coverage.

Fellow starter Lardarius Webb can relate to Smith’s misfortune after twice suffering season-ending knee injuries in his six-year career.

“I feel for him. I’ve been on the sideline before, looking in,” Webb said. “I know how much it hurts inside to want to be out there on the field. I just wish him luck and to get back healthy as soon as possible. And whenever he gets back, we’ll continue to be that great duo.”

Harbaugh was pleased with the work put in by the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer and recently-promoted Tramain Jacobs this week as they prepared to receive action in Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

But there’s no shying away from the loss of arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player this season and how big of a challenge it will be to compensate in the back end of the defense.

“I feel bad for Jimmy. We’ll be fine as a team. We’ll recover,” Harbaugh said. “We have good players at every position, and we’ll pick up the slack as a group and as a unit. We always do. That’s what you do. It’s happens all around the league. It’s just the way it is. It’s football. But I feel bad for Jimmy. He was having a great, great year. But he’ll bounce back, and he’ll be even better next year.”

Webb needs to step up

Webb expressed confidence that the secondary will bounce back from last Sunday’s 43-23 loss in which the Ravens surrendered six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, but he added that the improvement needs to start with himself.

After missing all of training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season, Webb is still working his way back to pre-injury form as he’s now the top healthy cornerback on the roster with Smith out. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 105.0 passer rating against Webb in six games this year and he was burned for a long touchdown against the Steelers in Week 9.

“It’s OK, man. I’ve got to get better myself,” said Webb of his performance in 2014. “Speaking about the group, me first. I’ve got to get myself together, which I’m feeling good. We’ve just all got to get on the same page.”

Jackson on track to return

Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that cornerback Asa Jackson is on track to return from a turf toe injury that landed the third-year defensive back on injured reserve-designated to return in early October.

Jackson is no longer in a walking boot and is eligible to return as early as Dec. 7 when the Ravens take on the Miami Dolphins. He made four starts earlier this season in the first defensive action of his career.

“I’m just doing everything to get better for that point,” said Jackson, who hasn’t played since Oct. 5. “When it gets there, we’ll see. I’m just working to get back for Week 14.”

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Ravens right tackle Wagner earning attention in ways few expected

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coaches offered similar sentiments over and over as second-year right tackle Rick Wagner was trying to secure his spot as a starter during spring organized team activities and summer training camp.

They’d say they hadn’t really noticed him on tape and not much was being said about him, which are compliments to a young offensive lineman in the same way you prefer an umpire or a referee to not stick out while officiating a game. But plenty of doubt was expressed from everyone else as the Ravens needed to replace right tackle Michael Oher after he departed in the opening days of free agency to sign a four-year, $20 million contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Instead of drafting an offensive tackle in the early rounds of May’s draft or adding a veteran familiar with Gary Kubiak’s system such as Eric Winston, the Ravens appeared content with Wagner competing against other in-house options such as Jah Reid and Ryan Jensen to take Oher’s place. The rest would be up to the 2013 fifth-round pick to prove them right.

“After I found out he was leaving, that was the first thing on my mind: ‘I have a great opportunity to take over the right side,'” Wagner said. “I was just thankful that the coaches trusted in me.”

That trust has certainly paid off with Wagner not only taking full control of the job but blossoming into an above-average right tackle who’s now garnering attention for his strong play instead of simply trying to blend in. In fact, Wagner has outperformed the man he replaced as he’s graded out as the best right tackle in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Oher has struggled in his first year with the Titans, ranking 49th among the 51 tackles who’ve played at least 443 offensive snaps this season, per the same website.

Wagner has also committed only one penalty all season — a false start in Week 8 — after infractions were a frequent issue with Oher in his five years with Baltimore.

In the last week, Wagner was named to mid-season All-Pro teams by CBSSports.com and PFF, a reflection of how he’s more than just holding the job for the Ravens’ improved offensive line and how he’s slowly turning heads around the league. Head coach John Harbaugh said he had no idea when asked whether Wagner was playing at a Pro Bowl level, but the question alone reflects what great strides the second-year tackle has made in 2014 after playing just 131 snaps as a rookie when he was primarily used as an extra blocking tight end in the jumbo package.

After a 2013 season in which offensive line coach Juan Castillo drew plenty of criticism for the play of his unit, Wagner has been the assistant’s greatest success story in Baltimore.

“The thing that jumps out at me is his consistency. Rick is very consistent,” Harbaugh said. “He executes the techniques exactly the way that the scheme calls for. He gets it right most all the time. If he does get beat — like anybody does at times — it’s physically. And that doesn’t happen very often.”

A quiet but imposing 25-year-old with a 6-foot-6, 310-pound fram, Wagner is admittedly uncomfortable speaking with media — he joked that he was more at ease playing in Pittsburgh last Sunday than he was at the podium in Owings Mills Wednesday — but he’s taking the high praise as a confidence boost in his first full year as a starter.

Playing next to three-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has certaintly helped Wagner’s development as the two share Big Ten roots — Yanda at Iowa and Wagner at Wisconsin — and have formed plenty of sizable running lanes for the league’s 10th-ranked running game. Despite being appreciative of the recognition, it’s clear Wagner prefers talking about the overall improvement of the offensive line rather than his individual contributions.

“I think pass protection has been pretty [improved],” said Wagner about how his game has improved since his rookie season. “Run blocking as a whole [offensive] line, we’ve been pretty good. It’s great playing next to Yanda. He really helps me out. It’s phenomenal playing next to him. The communication, the double-teams we have together — it makes my job easier.”

Wagner is the only Ravens player not to miss an offensive snap all season and doesn’t recall even missing a practice. It’s the kind of durability that commands respect and praise from teammates, both young and old.

There’s nothing fancy about him as veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs nicknamed Wagner “The Salesman” in reference to his ordinary name and a belief that he’d be good at selling “a lot of good stuff” despite his quiet demeanor. But there’s been nothing common about the tackle’s play as what was once a concern entering the season is now a position of strength for the Ravens.

“He has been working his tail off, and I think that’s a feel-good story,” Suggs said. “He showed that he can hold his own, and he has been playing phenomenal for us. You have to tip your hat to a guy that shows up to work. Those guys [are] in there in the trenches. They don’t really get a lot of credit for the things that they do, but he has definitely been a big part of our success.”

And it’s about time he’s being noticed for it.

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Caldwell to complete another head-coaching interview with Tennessee

Posted on 06 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell continues to receive interest as a potential NFL head coach and will interview with the Tennessee Titans later this week.

After completing interviews with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins in recent days, Caldwell will reportedly meet with the Titans about their open position after they fired Mike Munchak on Saturday.

Caldwell spent three years as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and led them to Super Bowl XLIV before joining the Ravens as quarterbacks coach in 2012. He received much praise for the job he did with the Baltimore offense in helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl after being promoted to offensive coordinator on Dec. 10, 2012, but his offense struggled mightily in 2013 as the Ravens finished 29th in total yards and 25th in points scored while also setting franchise lows in rushing yards and yards per carry.

Baltimore parted ways with running backs coach Wilbert Mongtomery last week, and some have wondered whether a change is warranted at offensive coordinator despite teams having interest in Caldwell for their vacant head coaching positions.

 

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Playoffs?!?!?!?!?

Posted on 11 December 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are 3 weeks remaining in the season for the Ravens, and all other teams for that matter. The good news is that the Ravens are very much in control of their own playoff destiny; if they win their remaining 3 games nothing can keep them from the playoffs. There is however, still little reason to believe that the Ravens will win all 3 games. The other good news is that they probably won’t have to. The bad news then, is that there are a myriad of possibilities on how the season plays out and what it might mean from a Ravens perspective.

 

Here is a comprehensive breakdown of all scenarios and possible tie-break situations the Ravens might face as the season winds down:

 

Ravens

Record 7-6     Conference Record 6-4     Division Record 3-2

Remaining Games: @DET, vs NE, @CIN

 

Bengals

Record 9-4     Conference Record 7-3     Division Record 2-2

Remaining Games: @PIT, vs MIN, vs BAL

This one is pretty straightforward, if the Ravens are going to catch the Bengals they have to beat the Bengals…they’ll also need Cincinnati to lose at least one other game. Any tie between the Ravens and Bengals would go to the Ravens because it will require the Ravens to beat the Bengals for the second time this season, thereby giving Baltimore the head-to-head tiebreaker.

 

Steelers

Record 5-8     Conference Record 4-6     Division Record 2-2

Remaining Games: vs. CIN, @GB, vs CLE

At 8-8 Ravens would lose the tiebreaker, either by division record if they failed to beat CIN (they’d be 3-3 to PIT’s 4-2) or by common opponents The Ravens beat HOU lost to DEN, the Steelers lost to OAK & TEN, meaning the Ravens would be 7-7 vs common opponents and the Steelers would be 8-6.

At 7-9 the Ravens would win the tiebreaker if they beat the Bengals and the Steelers lost to either the Bengals or Browns with a 4-2 division record to Pittsburgh’s 3-3. The Steelers would win the tie breaker by common opponents if the teams wound up with the same divisional record.

 

Dolphins

Record 7-6     Conference Record 6-3

Remaining Games: vs NE, @BUF, vs NYJ

The Ravens have the tiebreaker vs the Dolphins by virtue of their head-to-head victory over Miami. That could change though if the tie is between more than just 2 teams.

 

Jets

Record 6-7     Conference Record 3-7

Remaining Games: @CAR, vs CLE, @MIA

The Ravens have the tiebreaker vs the Jets by virtue of their head-to-head victory over New York. That could change though if the tie is between more than just 2 teams.

 

Titans

Record 5-8     Conference Record 4-6

Remaining Games: vs AZ, @JAX, vs HOU

At 8-8 Ravens would win tie-breaker by conference record if they win 1 more AFC game. If Ravens lose to CIN & NE but beat DET the tie-breaker becomes strength of victory (common opponents are PIT, HOU, NYJ & DEN both teams would be 3-2).

Right now the Titans 5 victories are over teams with 26 combined wins and they’d have to win their final 3 games accounting for 14 more wins so far for a total of 40 opponents’ wins. The teams that the Titans have beaten and would have to beat have 21 combined games remaining.

The Ravens 7 wins are over teams with a combined 36 wins and 1 tie and would have to win one of their last 3 games over a team with 7, 9 or 10 wins. That plus the 26 games that those opponents have remaining would seem to position the Ravens in control of the tiebreaker over Tennessee at 8-8.

At 7-9 the Ravens would win the tiebreaker by conference record with a Titans loss to Jacksonville or by common opponents with a loss to Houston. If the Titans lost to Arizona instead the tiebreaker would instead go to strength of victory where the Ravens wield a heavy advantage.

*At 7-9 there would also seem to be a likelihood that more than 2 teams would be vying for the spot.

 

Chargers

Record 6-7     Conference Record 3-6

Remaining Games: @DEN, vs OAK, vs KC

At 9-7 the Ravens would win the tiebreaker over San Diego by conference record 7-5 or 8-4 to the Chargers 6-6.

At 8-8 the Ravens would win the tiebreaker over San Diego by conference record 7-5 or 6-6 to the Chargers 5-7.

At 7-9 The Ravens win the tiebreaker over San Diego 6-6 to the Chargers 4-8.

 

3-Way Ties

*Multi-team ties require divisional ties to be broken first. Refer to above for Ravens Steelers tie break scenarios.

 

Ravens, Dolphins & Titans

At 8-8 if Ravens beat DET, lose to CIN & NE tiebreaker goes to MIA by conference record.

If Ravens lose to Detroit beat CIN or NE, TEN eliminated by conference record, then Ravens win head-to-head vs Dolphins.

At 7-9 Tennessee is eliminated on conference record unless their loss is to AZ. If TEN loses to AZ and all teams are 7-9 with 6-6 conference records and strength of victory would decide the tie. Here’s a strength of victory refresher:

-The Titans 5 victories are over teams with 26 combined wins. They’d have to beat Jacksonville and Houston with a combined 6 wins so far.

-The Ravens 7 wins are over teams with a combined 36 wins and 1 tie.

-The Dolphins 7 wins are over opponents with 41 wins so far.

The 3 weeks remaining in the season and the successes and failures of the teams beaten by the Ravens, Dolphins & Titans in those 3 weeks could change a lot, but for now advantage Dolphins.

 

Ravens, Dolphins & Chargers

Chargers eliminated by conference record. If Ravens and Dolphins are tied in conference records then Ravens win head-to-head vs Dolphins, if conference records are not equal winner is determined by conference record.

Ravens, Titans & Chargers

Chargers eliminated by conference record, revert to Ravens Titans tiebreakers above.

Ravens, Jets & Titans

Jets eliminated by conference record, revert to Ravens & Titans tiebreakers above.

Ravens, Jets & Chargers

Ravens win by virtue of conference record.

4-Way Ties

Ravens, Jets, Titans & Chargers

Jets and Chargers eliminated on conference record. Refer to Ravens & Titans tiebreakers for the rest.

Ravens, Dolphins, Titans & Chargers

Chargers eliminated by conference record. Refer to Ravens, Titans & Dolphins 3-way tiebreaker for the rest.

 

 

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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the AFC wild-card race

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Luke Jones

For the Ravens and a number of other AFC teams who’ve plodded along with a .500 record or slightly worse through the first three quarters of the 2013 season, the final sprint is here in determining who will grab the coveted second wild-card spot as Kansas City is all but guaranteed the No. 5 seed.

Of course, coach John Harbaugh and his team still hold hope that their Week 17 meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals will provide an opportunity to play for the AFC North title, but the Ravens will need their division counterpart to slip up to reduce the deficit to just one game entering that final contest at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 29. In the meantime, the Ravens simply must focus on winning games and securing their current grip on the No. 6 seed in the AFC as their 6-6 record equals the Dolphins — and an Oct. 6 victory over Miami gives them the tie-breaking nod.

Following this Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings that concludes the current three-game homestand, the Ravens have the most difficult path of any of the wild-card contenders over the final three weeks in playing three teams projected to land in the postseason. Baltimore figures to need to win three of its final four games in the final month for a good chance to maintain its grip on the No. 6 seed, meaning the Ravens will likely need to win two of three against Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati and only the Patriots game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 16.

The Ravens’ 6-4 conference record stacks up well with the rest of the field, but the outcome of their two remaining AFC games will loom large should they find themselves in a number of tie-breaking situations.

Here’s a look at the rest of the field as I determine who the contenders and the pretenders are:

MIAMI (6-6) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 5-3
Remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh, New England, at Buffalo, New York Jets
Skinny: It would have been unsurprising to see the Dolphins fold in November with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation hanging over their heads, but Miami has rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay to win two of its last three. The Dolphins are in the best position to challenge the Ravens mathematically, but their next two games will make or break them as they go to Heinz Field before playing the Patriots at home. Just one win over the Steelers or New England would put incredible heat on the Ravens over the final two weeks against difficult opponents. Of course, the Dolphins’ Week 5 loss to Baltimore continues to doom them if those two teams finish tied for the No. 6 spot with no one else in the mix.

TENNESSEE (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: at Denver, Arizona, at Jacksonville, Houston
Skinny: Their current record and remaining schedule still suggest the Titans have a slim chance, but the season-ending injury to quarterback Jake Locker last month and two losses to a vulnerable Indianapolis team in their last three games have all but sealed their fate. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick had been playing well before an awful performance this past Sunday, but the next two games figure to be the final nails in the coffin to the Titans’ playoff hopes. Tennessee started fast this season, but only two wins since the start of October clearly scream pretender in an already-mediocre field.

PITTSBURGH (5-7) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: Miami, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Cleveland
Skinny: Many eulogized the Steelers’ season following the Thanksgiving night result, but Pittsburgh could still be the biggest threat in the wild-card race with three remaining home games. A normally-intimidating trip to Lambeau Field in Week 16 to take on the Packers could also be easier should Aaron Rodgers be shut down for the rest of the season as some are speculating. A Steelers win over the Bengals in Week 15 would help the Ravens in their quest for the division title, but Baltimore’s season split with Pittsburgh creates a more complicated tiebreaker that could come down to division record or even record in common games. Perhaps more than anything else, Ravens fans begrudgingly know it’s never a good idea to count out Ben Roethlisberger, meaning the Steelers still have a shot.

SAN DIEGO (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 3-6
Remaining schedule: New York Giants, at Denver, Oakland, Kansas City
Skinny: The Chargers’ home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday not only failed to do the Ravens any favors in the AFC North race but landed Mike McCoy’s team in the pretender category. San Diego has arguably looked better than any of the other wild-card contenders — the Ravens included — when playing at its best, but inconsistency has once again plagued the Chargers as it seems to annually. They have three remaining home games, but the Chargers have already lost three games at Qualcomm Stadium and are just as likely to lay an egg against the Giants or the Raiders than to pull off an upset over the Broncos or the Chiefs. Their abysmal conference record won’t do them any favors in a tie-breaking scenario, so San Diego’s only real hope is to run the table.

NEW YORK (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 2-7
Remaining schedule: Oakland, at Carolina, Cleveland, at Miami
Skinny: Only two weeks ago we were talking about the Jets holding the No. 6 spot in the conference, but they’ve crashed and burned since then with a road loss to the Ravens and an embarrassing home defeat to Miami by 20 points this past Sunday. Their quarterback situation is the worst of any of the teams still vying for a wild-card spot as Geno Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween. The Jets’ remaining schedule isn’t awful, but they appear far more likely to lose their four remaining games than to go on a run necessary to land the No. 6 seed. New York was still better than many expected this year, but a dysfunctional offense has finally sunk the Jets after some impressive wins earlier in the season.

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Despite crowded wild-card picture, Ravens’ task clear over final month

Posted on 02 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens entered the weekend with the rare chance to not only rest but take a long look at the rest of a crowded AFC playoff picture.

Moving into the No. 6 spot in the conference by way of their 22-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday night, the Ravens could give thanks at the end of the holiday weekend for still holding the final wild-card position due to their tie-breaking win over the 6-6 Miami Dolphins earlier in the season. But four teams linger with 5-7 records, and different factors are working for and against them in the chase to play football in January.

There’s plenty of watching and wondering what will happen over the season’s final four weeks.

“Everybody is playing everybody right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “With so many teams involved, it’s going to be the way it’s going to be. One team wins, another teams loses. A lot of times, it helps us either way, and it hurts us both ways — it doesn’t really matter.”

The Dolphins have only one game remaining against teams that are .500 or better (New England).

Pittsburgh plays three of its final four games at Heinz Field and only one of those four contests comes against an opponent with a winning record (Cincinnati).

Despite a crippling quarterback situation, the New York Jets play only one team with a winning record and it’s an NFC opponent (Carolina).

After a disappointing home loss to the Bengals that did no favors to the Ravens’ AFC North title hopes, the Chargers still play three of the final four games at home.

And even 5-7 Tennessee has games remaining against Jacksonville and Houston, two of the worst teams in the NFL.

It’s a lot to process as we start tracking conference marks, records against common opponents, and strength of victory, but Harbaugh and the Ravens choose to focus only on what they can control with so many scenarios still alive with four games to go. The hope of a division title will depend on the Bengals slipping at least once or twice leading into the Week 17 meeting between the teams in Cincinnati, but advancing to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season is a clear path if the Ravens can avoid treacherous detours along the way.

“What matters is us; we just have to win,” Harbaugh said. “If we win games, things are going to work out for us. If we don’t, things are going to be tough. That’s what we have to take care of; we have to take care of ourselves.”

Though facing the best running back on the planet in Adrian Peterson doesn’t sound like a layup, the Ravens will face their last opponent with a record below .500 Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings come to town to conclude a three-game homestand. After that, the road becomes bumpier than at any other point this season with a Monday night road game at NFC North-leading Detroit, a Sunday night home finale against AFC East-leading New England, and a regular-season finale in Cincinnati.

The Ravens hold the one-game edge over all No. 6 seed contenders after Miami, but they’ll still need to win three of their final four to get to the 9-7 mark, a standard that would very likely put them in the postseason. An 8-8 record could still conceivably land the No. 6 seed in the AFC, but such a path will depend on tie-breakers and considerable help from other results.

The good news is Baltimore appears to be getting hot at the right time. After winning two straight for only the second time all season, the Ravens are back at .500 and are on the verge of getting tight end Dennis Pitta back to provide a boost to a below-average offense. Experience is certainly on their side as they can simply point to last year to remember it’s all about clicking when the stakes are at their highest.

However, these Ravens are also 1-5 on the road and figure to need to win at least one of their final two road games. Only one of Baltimore’s six wins — their Nov. 10 home win over the Bengals — has come against teams currently holding a winning record and only one other victory — an Oct. 6 win at Miami — came against a team at the .500 mark.

The Ravens believe they’re getting better and are peaking at the right time. They’ll have every opportunity to show that in the month of December.

Their playoff lives will depend on it.

“We are in position to control our own destiny,” Harbaugh said. “That is what you try to accomplish going into December, so we’ve accomplished that. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it and to go ahead and control our destiny, win the games we have to win, starting with this one – and this is the only one that matters right now – and take it from there.”

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Deserving or not, Ravens remain firmly in AFC playoff hunt

Posted on 18 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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They don’t deserve to be in the postseason and certainly don’t look like a playoff team.

The eyeball test warrants a failing grade.

Too little consistency and too many bad losses will cost them at the end of the season.

They’re simply not good enough.

The following statements have been used over and over in describing the Ravens as they’ve lost four of their last five games to fall to 4-6 on the season and 2 1/2 games behind division-leading Cincinnati in the AFC North.

And those same descriptions can and have been used to describe the seven other teams currently jockeying for the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff picture. In fact, “plodding” might be a better term to use in describing the race for the No. 6 seed in the conference.

Unless commissioner Roger Goodell elects to eliminate the final spot, a team with an underwhelming résumé through Week 11 will find itself playing in January as the final seed in the single-elimination tournament. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins hold the slight edge at the moment over the rest of the pack at 5-5, but their flaws are as apparent as any of the six 4-6 teams chasing them.

“What it goes to show you is how close it is, and what a razor-thin margin it is in the National Football League,” coach John Harbaugh said in describing the current playoff picture. “That’s what makes the National Football League great. We would all rather be sitting here talking about being atop the division and chasing a home-field advantage or something like that. And that’s something that we were shooting for. We wanted to be in that position. We haven’t done the things we needed to do to be in that position.”

The frustration is understandable after a 4-6 start, but deeming the Ravens undeserving of the playoffs and writing them off are subjective statements that would be true in most seasons but are made in isolation from the rest of the field through Week 11. While I’m unwilling to say they’re definitively better than any of the other seven teams fighting for the final spot, you won’t convince me that any of those competitors are superior to the Ravens, either.

The truth is the AFC is mired in mediocrity once you look beyond Denver, New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Kansas City, making it difficult to predict which team — if any — will make a strong run over the final six weeks to sneak in. At this point, 10-6 would virtually guarantee the final playoff spot, but 9-7 has a good shot of being the season-ending target.

As mediocre as the entire field of 5-5 and 4-6 teams has looked, even an 8-8 record — or, gasp, 7-9? — with a favorable tie-breaker arsenal could conceivably be awarded with the No. 6 seed. Whether you elect to embrace that possibility with any level of enthusiasm is your choice.

With a head-to-head tie-breaking win over Miami and a meeting with the Jets this Sunday, the Ravens have an opportunity to gain the upper hand against the two teams they’re currently chasing in the wild-card race. That doesn’t mean they have the advantage over the rest of the field, but their chances appear no worse than any other team — even if you must hold your nose while saying that.

“We are right there. We can do it, and we’re good enough to do it,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got every tool we need; all we have to do is go get it done. But that’s on us. We believe we have what it takes, but it’s up to us to prove it, and we’ve got to go prove it by winning these games.”

Whether the Ravens can do it remains to be seen, but three straight games at home starting Sunday provides a crucial opportunity to stack wins and ease the pain from their current 1-5 record on the road.

Here’s a look at the rest of the race for the AFC’s No. 6 seed in the current order in which teams stand based on tie-breaking procedures, which I’ll forgo including beyond conference records for now:

6. NEW YORK (5-5)
Conference record: 2-5
Remaining schedule: at Baltimore, Miami, Oakland, at Carolina, Cleveland, at Miami
Case for: Only one game remaining against a team with a winning record, league’s top-ranked run defense
Case against: Struggling rookie quarterback Geno Smith, minus-85 point differential (worst among the eight contenders for No. 6 seed)

7. MIAMI (5-5)
Conference record: 4-3
Remaining schedule: Carolina, at New York Jets, at Pittsburgh, New England, at Buffalo, New York Jets
Case for: One of the NFL’s better pass rushes, potential of young quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Case against: 31st in total offense, fallout from the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga

8. OAKLAND (4-6)
Conference record: 4-3
Remaining schedule: Tennessee, at Dallas, at New York Jets, Kansas City, at San Diego, Denver
Case for: Fourth-ranked run offense, sixth-ranked run defense
Case against: Unrest at quarterback position, 25th-ranked pass defense

9. TENNESSEE (4-6)
Conference record: 3-4
Remaining schedule: at Oakland, at Indianapolis, at Denver, Arizona, at Jacksonville, Houston
Case for: Seventh-ranked pass defense, fifth in conference in takeaways
Case against: Season-ending injury to quarterback Jake Locker, four remaining road games

10. PITTSBURGH (4-6)
Conference record: 3-4
Remaining schedule: at Cleveland, at Baltimore, Miami, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Cleveland
Case for: One game remaining against teams currently above .500, veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
Case against: 30th-ranked rush offense, 26th in run defense

11. BALTIMORE (4-6)
Conference record: 4-4
Remaining schedule: New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, at Detroit, New England, at Cincinnati
Case for: Expected return of Dennis Pitta, four remaining home games
Case against: 31st in yards per carry and 30th in total offense, three games remaining against teams currently above .500

12. CLEVELAND (4-6)
Conference record: 3-4
Remaining schedule: Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, at New England, Chicago, at New York Jets, at Pittsburgh
Case for: Fifth in total defense, play-making ability of wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron
Case against: 26th-ranked rush offense, 10th in AFC in takeaways

13. SAN DIEGO (4-6)
Conference record: 2-5
Remaining schedule: at Kansas City, Cincinnati, New York Giants, at Denver, Oakland, Kansas City
Case for: Fourth-ranked passing offense, plus-4 point differential (best among the eight No.6 seed contenders)
Case against: 27th in pass defense, four games remaining against teams currently above .500

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You would never trade the 15-7-0 for a sixth round pick

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

Do you remember how this goes?

15 positive observations from the weekend of football, seven not so positive observations and we acknowledge a “zero” from outside the world of football. A reminder, there’s never any Ravens game analysis here. It’s a trip through the weekend of football via videos, GIFs, memes, pictures, links, Tweets and shtick.

It’s been awhile. Be gentle. You know I would be.

15 Positive Observations…

1. Dear Tennessee Titans. Remember that thing Brian Billick said in the locker room that one time? Can we forget about all of that? We love you. A lot. Like MORE than we love red velvet funnel cake. No. Really.

This particular level of beautiful idiocy is even more delicious because former Terps LB Moise Fokou was the one to come up with the ball. I cried. I hugged a stranger.

Look, the Steelers were awful (which is delicious), but Troy Polamalu still did something AMAZING.

But hey Steel City, at least you didn’t do this.

2. Joe Flacco is so jealous of the guys CJ Brown is able to throw the football to.

Dave Stinebaugh is capable. Deon Long is good. Stefon Diggs is absurd.


3. I don’t really want to get too emotional this early in the season, but if you don’t want to give Ken Niumatalolo a “bro-hug” you’re a terrible American.

Navy is amazing. Just days after Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s mother passed away, they go to Bloomington and beat the Hoosiers for the second straight year. They’re just absolutely amazing. It was their 20th win over a BCS program since 2003. You might ask yourself, is that good? Well…yes.

Much love to you Coach Niumatalolo. And with the return of Navy football, the return of the amazing Navy football pregame videos.

4. The Saints’ decision to have a head coach be the head coach this season has gotten them off to a better start.

Pretty neat moment at the start of the game in The Big Easy, as Sean Payton and former Saint Steve Gleason lead the team out together.

This was one of the better games of the day, and came down to Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro making a damn fine play to end the game. I hope his family treated him to an eclair as a reward. (Raise your hand if you got it.)

5. High five to the guy who randomly picked Shane Vereen because “what the hell he’s still sitting there” late in his fantasy football draft.

Vereen came into the game because Stevan Ridley had a fumbling problem. But it’s understandable when you’re getting by tough opponents like “Air” and “Ground”…

For some inexplicable reason, Tom Brady decided to do his best Mark Sanchez impression.

Bills fans of course handled the arrival of the Pats with class and dignity and…yeah.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Former Ravens safety Pollard joining Titans

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Luke Jones

The morning after it was learned that longtime Ravens safety Ed Reed would be joining the Houston Texans, it appears his former partner in the defensive backfield will be moving into the AFC South as well.

Former Baltimore strong safety Bernard Pollard will join the Tennessee Titans on a one-year deal, as first reported by ESPN’s Josina Anderson. The reporter tweeted that Pollard informed her of the move Thursday morning, and Pollard’s agent Tory Dandy confirmed the news via Twitter.

The 28-year-old was released and designated as a post-June 1st release last week, meaning his $2 million base salary remains on the salary cap until that date. This allows general manager Ozzie Newsome to push $1.5 million in dead money to next year’s cap that otherwise would have been applied to the 2013 cap. Only this year’s prorated signing bonus amount of $750,000 will count against the cap.

In other words, the Ravens will receive an additional $2 million in cap space in June, which could provide flexibility in signing a veteran to address a need such as how they added guard Bobbie Williams last summer.

Pollard will join his fourth team in eight NFL seasons, leaving some to believe his strong-willed personality and outspoken nature led to his release, but coach John Harbaugh said in Phoenix that his release was solely a cap-related move. Veteran safety James Ihedigbo is projected to fill one of the two safety spots vacated by Pollard and Reed, but the Ravens are expected to address the position in April’s draft.

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