When teams take the field on the first day of training camp their goal is to win their respective division. That’s the first rung on the ladder in the climb towards the top and The Lombardi Trophy.
So for the Baltimore Ravens, that’s a check.
The next rung is to win the Wild Card Playoff Game at M&T Bank Stadium where their likely opponent will be the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have locked up the fifth seed in the playoffs. They hold tiebreakers over the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bengals.
The seedings of course could change if the Ravens beat the Bengals in Cincinnati and the Patriots (11-4) lose at home against the Dolphins. The last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots in Foxboro when Tom Brady was behind center for the entire game was on December 20, 2004.
The Dolphins at Patriots game has been flexed to a 4:25 start opposite the Chiefs at Broncos (12-3). The Texans (12-3) visit the Colts at 1:00. Win or lose the Colts will be the fifth seed. But a Texans win secures the No. 1 seeding throughout the playoffs since they beat the Broncos during Week 3 in Denver. That leaves the Patriots and Broncos with something to play for.
Both want a first round bye. A Broncos loss and a Patriots win would give the Patriots the No. 2 seed. A Texans loss and a Broncos loss would give the Patriots the No. 1 seed since they have beaten both the Texans and the Broncos.
So with that in mind a No. 3 seed for the Ravens is an extreme long shot and it looks like Andrew Luck and the horseshoes will be heading back to their original home in Baltimore.
Add it up and it begs the question, “Should the Ravens rest some or most of their starters in Cincinnati?” Chances are they will not. In the unlikely event that the Patriots lose, John Harbaugh & Co. could be left with big time egg on their face handing away an opportunity to claim the No. 3 seed.
That said, the No. 4 seed might be the best chance the Ravens have to advance to the AFC Championship Game. If they beat the Colts at M&T, advancing as the 4th seed would likely send them to Houston. Advancing as a 3rd seed would probably send them to Denver. At this point a trip back to Houston would be more favorable than taking on the red-hot Broncos at Mile High.
It’s going to be fun. But until then, let’s look back at a complete team effort last night against the defending World Champion New York Giants.
THE GOOD: The Ravens offensive line had a very good game (except for a very bad series by Michael Oher) and that perhaps more than anything else was the engine for an offense that produced 533 net yards. Kelechi Osemele was outstanding neutralizing Jason Pierre-Paul…Anquan Boldin (7-93-0) and Torrey Smith (5-88-1) had solid games…For the first time since 2008 the Ravens had two running backs with 100+ yards as Bernard Pierce (14-123) and Ray Rice (24-107) led the ground attack powered in part by Vonta Leach. Rice chipped in with 158 total all-purpose yards and a TD reception…Third down efficiency was a very good 11 for 18…Nice game plan from Jim Caldwell to attack the Giants weak link, Corey Webster.
Defensively DC Dean Pees gets kudos for a great game plan that continually kept Eli Manning under pressure and the Giants home run hitters in check. Obviously the Ravens saw on film that the Giants backs are extremely poor pass blockers and the Ravens made them pay. Haloti Ngata was a force in the middle, collapsing the pocket and enabling the edge guys to disrupt Manning’s throwing motion often. James Ihedigbo has proven to be an outstanding find and filled in seamlessly for Bernard Pollard…Great to see Dannell Ellerbe back in the lineup with his explosiveness in the middle…Chykie Brown deserves some props. He was picked on often but usually answered, unlike the disappointing Jimmy Smith…The Ravens checked the Giants on third down limiting them to 2 of 10, the first third down conversion not coming until just under 5 minutes to go in the third quarter.
THE BAD: Red Zone efficiency on offense could have been better particularly inside the 10-yard line. The Ravens were just 2 of 6 in the red zone. John Harbaugh still can’t get the challenges down. He should have challenged the fumble by Eli Manning that was ruled a forward pass. He and his staff had plenty of time to review and get that right. They didn’t.
THE UGLY: Carl Cheffers officiating crew was a joke. They took a touchdown off the board for the Ravens on the pass to Jacoby Jones ultimately ruling it incomplete. Are we sure they are officiating football? The false start on Michael Oher – JOKE! The personal foul against Ed Reed – JOKE! And of course Eli Manning’s fumble that was ruled a pass – JOKE! Carl and Co. should stick to flipping hamburgers…The Ravens penalties need to be reeled in. Nine penalties for 92 yards are just unacceptable for a playoff team…And speaking of penalties, Michael Oher…3 on the same drive? Granted one was a bad call but C’mon Man!
THE MEGAN FOX: Joe Flacco was outstanding. He was on target, on time and showed great poise in the pocket. He also maintained his composure and created a big play with his legs ultimately hitting Dennis Pitta down field for a 36-yard gain – a play that was reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger’s best. Flacco finished 25 of 36 for 309 yards, 2 scores and a 114.2 QB Rating. This was a game the Ravens desperately needed and Flacco delivered perhaps his best overall game as a pro. That’s clutch!