I’d like to consider myself an optimist (generally speaking). With my optimistic outlook on life, it also translates to football (generally speaking). And with optimism, I believe the Ravens are still poised to make the playoffs (generally speaking).
Despite fielding the 31st ranked pass defense, a hit-or-miss pass rush that can’t protect the back end or close out games, and an offense that can’t cash in on red zone opportunities, why am I so optimistic?
Okay, I get it. Banking on the ease of a schedule is dangerous in a watered-down league full of weekly upsets. But I have to draw my optimism from somewhere, right?
Compared to the other sixth seed wildcard contenders, Baltimore has a less daunting path against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns.
In contrast, Kansas City still has to play at Arizona, at Pittsburgh, and closes out with a home game against the Chargers.
The Bills? Fuggedaboutit.
They still have to play Denver, Green Bay, and New England.
Then there are the two AFC North competitors, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Steelers have to play the Bengals twice along with the Chiefs. Something has to give there. The Browns play the Colts and the Bengals, and of course, close with the Ravens on the road.
That leaves the Dolphins and the Ravens.
This South Florida clash is really shaping up as a virtual elimination game. Remember the movie Mad Max? Two teams enter, one teams leaves.
One could argue that Miami has the easier schedule because they have three out of their final four games at home. Two of those games are against the Vikings and the Jets.
But to get to those final two games, the Dolphins have to beat the Ravens and the Patriots. Not easy. Especially for a team that has struggled to close out good teams.
Speaking of a team not being able to close out good teams… the discussion of the Ravens’ course to a playoff berth can’t even begin without a “W” against the Fins. They lose, and they are stuffed birds in the Florida sun. That loss would give the Ravens six AFC losses and tie-breaker issues with all of the prime contenders.
Even if the Ravens beat the Dolphins, the team needs to run the table to make up for their abysmal AFC conference record. And the realist in me (not even the optimist) believes that they have a good chance to pull that run off even with their glaring holes.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the Chargers?
San Diego avoided the 7-5 six-team pile up because of their 8-4 record. But they are not in the clear. Not by a long shot.
They still have the hardest remaining schedule left with games against the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, and Chiefs.
They lose two of those games and, well, the standings become an even bigger mess.
No, the Ravens no longer control their own destiny.
But the road in front of them isn’t a dead end either.