In spite of the blather you may be hearing from Bleacher Report and ESPN.com about the Bengals being “head of the class” in the AFC North Division, and the division being “all but locked up,” don’t buy it, and take it from this writer who has already been criticized by some of you, the readers of this column, for allegedly selling short the Ravens playoff chances.
No, no indeed, I haven’t sold them short, as this gift win from the Dolphins – provided early for the holidays – put the Ravens back into contention if they simply win their next three or four games.
In fact, not only does this put them back into contention, it puts them into a TIE with Cincinnati in which they would, at this point, own the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win.
How so, you ask? Cincinnati lost to Miami. If the Ravens beat the Browns, they are 4-4, with the Bengals at 6-3. The Ravens’ next game after Cleveland is against said Bengals, at home, with an improved offensive line after (we assume) some feather ruffling by owner Steve Bisciotti (again) has caused a shake-up of the Ravens coaching staff with the return promotion of Andy Moeller as offensive line play caller and the demotion of Run Game Coordinator Juan Castillo. If the Ravens win that game, they are 5-4, with Cincy at 6-4.
After that, the Bengals have a bye after hosting the Browns and Baltimore plays Chicago on the road, and then hosts the NY Jets, a team the Ravens have owned at M&T Bank Stadium.
If the Ravens beat those next four teams – REGARDLESS of what Cincinnati does other than losing to the Ravens, the Ravens will move to first in the Division with their head-to-head win vs Cincinnati. If the Bengals somehow lose at home to the Browns (unlikely) the Ravens could be in first place by winning just their next three games.
The Bengals loss is the continuation of their strange, Dallas Cowboy-like trend of showing up for teams that they are expected to lose to, but taking days off against opponents they are expected to beat up.
Not that the Fins are fish food this year at 4-4, but they were helped by Andy Dalton’s incredible self-destruction in being a turnover machine, culminating with his end zone sack by Fins rush star Cameron Wake for only the league’s third ever overtime game which was decided on a safety.
The Orange Cats are good this year. Who Dey? A good team is who, but they are still beatable as Miami proved.
I have said it is unlikely that Baltimore goes 7-2 and makes the playoffs at 10-6, but it is far from impossible, and the Bengals have a tough schedule with games remaining against playoff contenders the San Diego Chargers (on the road), tough division opponent Pittsburgh (also on the road) and a home game against the surging Indianapolis Colts, a team that has thus far this season been the only team to beat Denver as well as beating San Francisco on the road and Seattle at home.
The Ravens have losable games against the Patriots at home and Detroit Lions and said Bears on the road, plus their three remaining contests against the Bengals and Steelers.
So, don’t count the Ravens out on the Division yet with a clear path to win it, if they can win certain key games. The road will be tough, but thanks to the Dolphins it is a lot easier.