Throughout the disappointing parts (which have constituted most) of the Ravens season, there has been one consistent reason to remain hopeful. That reason has virtually nothing to do with the Ravens themselves, or anything that they’ve shown us on the field so far; the best reason for Ravens fans to have remained hopeful throughout an otherwise trying season has been the mediocrity of their competition. Actually, calling the “competition” for the 6th and final playoff spot in the AFC mediocre might be giving the field too much credit; the longer the competition wears on, the more evident it becomes that no one seems capable of simply stepping up to claim the post-season berth.
While the Ravens have played better of late, they haven’t exactly played well. Nine field goals and two touchdowns in their two most recent wins has been enough to get the job done, but still far from confidence inspiring. And while the “must win” scenarios that the Ravens have faced and succeeded against, is mildly encouraging, those scenarios, fortunately for the team, have occurred during the “lay-up” portion of the schedule.
Sunday against the Vikings isn’t so much a “must win” as it is a “better win”. The Ravens could probably survive a loss to the Vikings from a mathematical standpoint, but let’s face it…if the Ravens can’t muster a win this week, at home, against a bad team, with their backs all but against the wall, there’d be little reason to believe that they could rise to the challenge that is the 3-game gauntlet of @DET, vs. NE & @CIN to finish out the season.
Moreover, the Vikings should present the Ravens with not only a chance to continue winning, but also with a chance to get their offensive act together, as the Minnesota defense has been one of the league’s worst against both the pass and the run.
Every year, football tends to change with the onset of cold weather, which usually benefits the Ravens and teams like them (i.e. the rest of the AFC North). This year the Ravens haven’t played a brand of ball that’s likely to get better with the dropping temperatures. Unless the Ravens find ways to run the ball effectively, and even more importantly to perform well on the road, the 3-game home stand they’re set to finish on Sunday will have been little more than a late season tease, a hook to keep us interested and hopeful before the Ravens shortcomings ultimately catch up to them.
The Ravens may not have to win out, and if we’re being honest about what we’ve seen so far, they probably won’t (or can’t). Still, the Dolphins resurgence has been improbable at best and nothing about the Titans, Chargers or Jets looks scary at all. That would leave the Steelers.
We wrote them off for dead after an 0-4 start, but the Steelers are still very much alive for the 6th seed, and maybe in better shape than even the Ravens right now. Pittsburgh has home games against Miami, Cincinnati and Cleveland remaining, along with a week 16 trip to Green Bay. They’re only ½ game down to the Ravens in division record (2-2 to the Ravens 3-2), which would be the first tiebreaker in any scenario involving both teams. The worse the record needed to claim that AFC 6th seed winds up being, the greater the chances that a tie would have to be broken. Divisional ties (like one between the Ravens and Steelers) have to be settled before the winners would be compared to teams from other divisions. And if Baltimore and Pittsburgh wind up with equal records both overall and in the division, the Steelers would win the tiebreaker by virtue of common opponents.
*Despite the Ravens superior record in conference, divisional ties go from head-to head match-ups (1-1) to divisional records and then to record vs. common opponents. The Ravens and Steelers each have 2 uncommon opponents; the Ravens lost to Denver and beat Houston, the Steelers lost to Oakland and Tennessee. That’d give the Steelers a better record vs. the 10 common opponents each has faced in the 12 other games.
There’s still hope, I suppose that a “Trip-gate” suspension could await Mike Tomlin, which could have a real impact on the race between the two. More likely though, barring the Ravens simply winning out, it’ll remain a battle between the NFL’s most bitter rivals until the end of the season for the playoff spot that no one seemingly wants to claim.
The Ravens’ work is far from done, and unfortunately the Steelers are far from done too.