With a predictable loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2013 season is officially on the brink for the struggling Baltimore Ravens.
Against a Steeler team that was 1-4 entering the game, the Ravens needed a win to put them away and focus on the Division race with the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, after inexplicable coaching mistakes from John Harbaugh, and some team-wide miscues, the Ravens are on the outside looking in at the race for the playoffs.
Earlier in the season, the Ravens had their annual “mulligan game” against the Buffalo Bills, a game that should have been a laugher of a win, but somehow ended up a loss. OK, but they still made the AFC Championship and won the Super Bowl in the past two seasons where they lost similar mulligan games to teams like the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks (before they were very good).
But then the Ravens lost a game that should have been won against the Packers at home. You can’t lose winnable home games, ever, especially after giving away a mulligan game.
Sure, you might say, the Ravens lost to a Packers team ranked in the league’s top two in team offense, a former Super Bowl-winning team of just two seasons ago helmed by one of the league’s top QBs in Aaron Rodgers.
Yes, but if the Ravens don’t have a cataclysmic breakdown on defense on a home run ball to Jordy Nelson, or don’t take the first half off offensively (again), or get even one key bat-away or quick tackle on the Packers’ final drive, they likely win that game.
But they didn’t.
The problem is that now, after the loss in PIttsburgh, the Ravens playoffs hopes come down to this: win their next two games, both Division games, or start praying other teams lose so they can somehow get the 6th playoff seed. But even that’s not looking very likely.
These are the realities for all the idiotic blabber you hear on sports radio about how it’s a “long season” and there being “plenty of time”:
* Despite last night’s loss in Indianapolis, the Broncos are laughing their way to no worse than a Wild Card berth. So there’s one playoff spot.
* The Chiefs are winning games in bunches. They are 7-0 after Sunday’s 17-16 win over the Texans. Barring an unlikely late-season collapse or serious injury, the Andy Reid-led veteran team is a lock for at least a Wild Card and probably the 5th seed.
* The Patriots should be 4-3 but for Sean Payton’s incompetent coaching at the end of the Saints-Pats game (after which the media had their usual verbal orgy praising Tom Brady’s “greatness” in leading the Pats to a comeback win). Disgusting, we know. The facts are that the Pats are 5-2 and, even while banged up and diminished from last year, they are still the favorite for an East Division win despite Sunday’s loss at the Jets.
So that’s two Division winners and one Wild Card accounted for. Someone out of the Colts/Titans/Texans jumble has to win the South and my prediction is that it’s the Colts with the Texans (2-5) really slumping and now, without a QB, Brian Cushing, and Arian Foster.
That leaves just one Wild Card and the AFC North. The Ravens are running out of time after Sunday’s loss. If the Ravens can own the best record in the Division they will win any Division tiebreakers.
But the problem is that the Bengals should have a record of 3-4, not 5-2, but don’t. The Patriots and Packers, both of whom came close and should have beaten the Bengals in Cincinnati, each found ways to lose their games, both games that were losable games on the Bengals’ schedule but ended up wins, and resulted in Baltimore getting no help in the standings.
The Bengals are winning close games that last year were losses including an OT win vs. Buffalo and another late FG win against the Lions. That’s a huge problem for the Ravens with the Bengals already two games ahead of them in the standings.
The Ravens are in a jumble of teams including the Titans, Jets, Dolphins, Chargers, and even the Bills that could end up with the 6th seed. The Ravens have beaten the Dolphins and have home games against the Pats and the Jets. Their game off against the Bills means that if Buffalo can stay in the equation this year they will beat out Baltimore if it comes down to those two teams.
It’s early, but not really.
At least three of the playoff teams are virtually set right now barring injury. The other two spots that concern the Ravens, the AFC North and the 6th seed will be determined by Baltimore’s ability or lack of ability to win moving forward.
But it’s really not looking good.
If Baltimore goes an amazing 7-2 down the stretch, a 10-6 record MIGHT get them into the playoffs. But 7-2 down the stretch? Don’t count on it.
The Ravens are a shadow of their former Super Bowl selves and in the midst of their worst start since 2005.