With the proverbial “second half” of the NFL season now facing the Ravens, I’ve taken some time over the last few days to ponder what it is exactly that I want and expect from John Harbaugh’s team between now and the 16th game of the campaign.
First, let me say this: As completely nuts as this might appear to be, the Ravens could still claw their way back into playoff contention. We already know the East, North and West Division champions, and it doesn’t really matter who wins the lame AFC South because they’re getting an automatic spot.
But who are the two wild card teams going to be?
If you asked me today, I’d say it will come from a group consisting of Pittsburgh, Oakland, the Jets and Buffalo, with Miami having an outside chance if a bunch of stuff goes their way.
That said, it’s not about WHO gets in, but what record does it take to make it?
Based on the schedules of the teams I listed above, I think there’s a VERY reasonable chance that 9-7 is a lock and one of the playoff spots will go to an 8-8 team.
Do I think the Ravens can go 8-8?
No, I don’t.
But that’s why they play the games, to prove doubters like me wrong.
The next three games are paramount to any thought the Ravens might have of finishing 8-8. They simply must beat Jacksonville, St. Louis and Cleveland over the next three weeks. For the record, I don’t think they’ll do that, but if they do, that gets them to 5-6 and 8-8 is suddenly in the offing.
So, like I wrote above, I know it’s probably crazy to think the Ravens can squeak their way back into the post-season picture after that woeful 1-6 start, but you play ’em one game at a time and add up the totals after 16 games. Stranger things have happened, folks.
What do I WANT from them, though?
This might sound simple and serve as the dumb statement of the day, but all I really want is for the club and the players to not embarrass themselves. I don’t care all that much what their final record is if, in fact, they don’t make the playoffs. To me, there’s no difference between 3-13 and 7-9 if you don’t get to play meaningful football in January. Missing the playoffs by one game is like missing it by six games.
What I don’t want, though, is for the Ravens to fall apart at the seams and become a laughing-stock the way a lot of teams do each year once they’re no longer capable of securing a playoff berth.
No in-fighting. No spats on the sidelines. No mutiny stories. No calling out a coach or a coordinator.
We saw that far too much in the latter stages of Brian Billick’s tenure and it got old quickly.
Just man-up, as a team, and give it a go every Sunday. If it doesn’t work out, that’s OK. The other team tries, too. But what I don’t want to see are stories on Deadspin or any other site of its ilk with a headline like, “Source says Flacco told team, ‘You guys suck’ at halftime of 42-14 loss to Seattle.”
The recipe is there for a blow-up if things don’t go the Ravens’ way over these last eight games. Tensions run high in the NFL because money, fame and contracts are at stake. I hope the Ravens are able to rise above whatever comes their way and conduct themselves appropriately. There’s nothing worse than a whiny bunch of athletes who can’t handle getting their ass kicked. It happens to everyone at some point (except for Ronda Rousey). It’s how you handle the turmoil that tells us about your character.
I think the Ravens are an organization filled with men (and women) of high character.
I hope they prove me right over the last eight games, no matter what the scoreboard reads.