I wrote before that the Vikings game and the Lions game could decide the season for the Baltimore Ravens. At least one of those games was a must-win. The good news is that due to a true miracle finish, in one of the most memorable games in team history, the Ravens accomplished job #1.
So, great, they are 7-6. The Dolphins are also 7-6 after finishing off the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in a game most people probably expected the Steelers to win. It’s a good and a bad for Baltimore because maybe Pittsburgh takes off the rest of the season, including this Sunday’s contest against the Bengals at home. A Bengals win would keep Baltimore’s AFC North title hopes alive.
The Chargers and Jets won too. The Titans were blown out of space by Peyton Manning and the leg of the NFL’s new kicking record-holder Matt Prater, so they’re done. The Bills and Browns were history before the day began, and so were the Raiders.
Technically, there’s still some mathematical chance the Steelers could be alive, but they’re done for all intents and purposes.
So, this is where things are left: Lions on the road, Patriots at home, and Bengals on the road.
The Ravens need to go 2-1, at a minimum, with the Lions game being the one they could lose. The problem is that if the Patriots don’t beat the Dolphins, there could be trouble. The Dolphins could one-up the Ravens on win-loss margin and then on better conference record in a three or four team tie, so Baltimore has reason to be concerned.
The Jets, too, are not done yet, even though they have to play the Panthers next week and should lose that one. The Chargers should have a loss on their plate against Denver on the road, but then again, they beat Kansas City on the road before and the last game against the Broncos, in San Diego, was decided by only a touchdown.
The interesting thing is that all teams could end up losing this coming Sunday and things will be left right where they are now.
Yet the thing is to win YOUR games. Baltimore is playing a team that is usually very good at home in the Lions with a receiver the team knows in advance it cannot cover, and a QB who, when accurate can filet them like a nice steak from Ruth’s Chris. Not good news.
The Ravens need to take the positivity from (barely) wins against the Bengals, the Vikings, the Steelers and a bigger win against the Jets, and make that a motivating factor in showing up for the Lions.
Joe Flacco has looked good when it has mattered. His TD passes at the first and second end of the Vikings game to Dennis Pitta (who remembered how to catch the ball just in time) and Marlon Brown, were works of art.
Flacco can put the ball on the money at times in addition to his NFL-best long ball. He will have to be in shootout-mode, like he was against Manning in last year’s Divisional playoffs, to give Baltimore a chance.
This one won’t be a defensive struggle, so the Ravens need to have a big offensive game plan set up to compete with Johnson and Detroit in very hostile territory.
Keep in mind the Lions are 2nd in the NFL in yards and 6th in points scored. They do have a -10 turnover ratio, so if Baltimore’s secondary can play strong, that will work to their advantage if Stafford throws a few pop flies to Baltimore outfielders. The Lions are 17th in yards-allowed on defense (25th v. pass), so Flacco will be able to crank it up.
That’s important because the best way to stop this offensive juggernaut is to keep up with it since it will be hard to stop it. The Ravens can do that by playing smart.
Calvin Johnson is one of those one-of-a-kind receivers who can literally own a game, by himself. The Ravens would be smart to double-cover him the whole game with either Matt Elam or James Ihedigbo basically just shadowing Johnson the whole game.
This game will be extremely difficult for Baltimore to win, but will be essential if the Dolphins beat the Patriots, and important if they do not. If the Ravens could steal a win, with other teams losing, then the Ravens would have essentially a 1.5 game lead on their nearest competitor.
Even if the Ravens were to lose to the Patriots, if the Bengals clinch the division they will likely rest their starters in the regular season finale. If the Ravens beat the Lions and the Patriots they will put pressure on the Bengals who have played up-and-down football the past few weeks and might be due for at least one more loss before they play the Ravens.
If Baltimore and Cincy are tied going into the season finale it will be a fight to likely determine who wins the division and who gets the 6th seed.
Based on the most likely scenario now, Baltimore goes to 3rd-seeded Indianapolis as 6th seed, and if they win, the team then travels to Denver to take on the Broncos in a re-re-match of last year’s Divisional playoff game.
The Patriots, as 2nd seed, would then host the winner of the Chiefs and Bengals. But imagine that scenario reversed. I think Baltimore wouldn’t mind visiting the Chiefs or Bengals in a 4-5 matchup or 6-3 matchup (if Indy has a few more losses come their way) and then going to their old favorite road hangout in New England. You can bet the Patriots and their fans will not be happy the Ravens could once again be their opponent.
The playoff possibilities are there – the Ravens just have to win.