The outcome of 4 AFC Games this weekend can have a significant impact on the January playoff schedule.
The Jekyll and Hyde Baltimore Ravens did it again. Forecast as a 2-3 point home underdog and picked by most national analysts to lose the game, the Ravens put together 60 minutes of solid football to easily beat the New York Giants 33-14 last Sunday and send the defending Super Bowl champs to the brink of an early off season. The victory allowed the Ravens to clinch the AFC North for the second year in a row.
As we I walked out of the stadium I was listening to one of the post-game shows on my Walkman and a radio voice noted (erroneously as it later turned out) that the Ravens playoff position was fixed; that they could neither improve nor hurt their slot as a 4th seed. I turned to my buddy and said, “There’s this year’s version of a first round bye.” I thought, maybe we could rest the injured starters; even not dress them, since we couldn’t improve our playoff position.
Well, as we all now know the Ravens are not totally locked into the 4th seed and a lot can happen this Sunday to affect the playoff match ups of all the teams in the AFC post season. Any one of 3 teams (Denver, Houston, or New England) can get the first seed and home field advantage. Additionally, the Patriots can finish either as the 3rd or 4th seed. So can the Ravens. The Colts and Bengals are 5th and 6th seed locks, but who they play also depends on this weekend’s results.
The question is, who do we want the Ravens to face in the Wild Card game, Indianapolis or Cincinnati? Assuming we win in the Wild Card round, where do we want the Ravens to play in the divisional round? Here’s one fan’s musings:
I’m not crazy about playing the Bengals anywhere, at any time, during the post season. They are red hot and are just off a franchise-defining win on the road at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Colts have a potential rookie of the year in quarterback Andrew Luck, but have only beat two teams with winning records. They are coming off a 2-15 season in which the team and front office were detonated. But….they are riding an emotional high with the return of Chuck Pagano as head coach.
Frankly, I can’t see Houston losing to Indy (although if I were a serious betting man, that would be my upset special), or New England losing to Miami, or Denver dropping one to the worst team in the league in Kansas City.
I’m betting things will stay the same and we will play the Colts early in January in the Wild Card round at the Purple Vault. I look for the Patriots to show the playoff door to the Bengals the same weekend. That sets up the best possible divisional matchup for the Ravens – 1st seed versus 4th seed.
Baltimore at Houston in the second week of January.
If there’s any top-3 team I’d like to see the Ravens to play on the road it would be Houston. They have significantly regressed from the team that gave the Ravens a 30-point beat down earlier in the year. Admittedly, a lot of what I’ve written could go out the window based on this weekend’s results, but I think the best divisional matchup for the Ravens is against a team that has lost a bit of mustard off its fast ball.
Of course, since the two lower seeds would be eliminated, it would mean the Ravens would be road warriors after Wild Card weekend. But we’ll worry about that in 10 days or so.
Early Christmas present, courtesy of Big Ben
In the second half of the Giants game visitors to the section 134 men’s room were treated to a curious sight. Among the rows of purple-clad fans waiting in line was a guy in a 43, black and gold, Troy Polamalu jersey. We all stared at him blankly at first and then a guy cried out, “What’s he doing here?” As general laughter broke out, I walked by and said to the Steelers fan “So, where are you playing next week?” Sweet!
It’s easy to ask the Ravens to play it safe this weekend and rest some hurting bodies by playing the backups. But nobody plays this game at half speed and Marvin Lewis will correctly have his Bengals playing all out in preparation for the Patriots. What am I hoping to see? Improvement over the only two quibbles I have from the Giants game. We need an improved red zone (inside the 10 yard line) offense and a major reduction in penalties. Playing a team that seemingly wasn’t interested in winning, we got away with both last week.
There will be no similar gifts in the post season. Can we use the Bengals game to work on this.
Ravens 20, Bengals 19