The Ravens begin the second half of the season with their toughest test — a showdown with the New England Patriots on Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
The bye came at a perfect time for the Ravens, who are 5-2 and lead the AFC North.
The Ravens might only need to go 4-5 the rest of the way to win the division with both the Cleveland Browns (2-5) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) struggling.
However, 10 wins would provide more of a buffer because Cleveland and Pittsburgh have easier schedules down the stretch.
“We try to win the game, because the wins, they add up. And that’s what we need to do is add them up,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens have home games against the Patriots, Texans, 49ers, Jets and Steelers, The goal would be to at least win four of those games, which would take them to the nine wins.
The road matchups come against the Bengals, Rams, Bills and Browns. The Ravens could be favored in three of those games and two victories would increase the win total to 11, which could feasibly get them a second home playoff game.
For now, the focus is now fully on New England.
The Patriots capitalized on a series of errors by the Browns and ran away with a 27-13 victory to improve to 8-0. New England has a startling +189 point differential.
The Ravens should put up more of a fight than Cleveland, which had turnovers on three consecutive plays in the opening quarter.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 27, 2019
The Ravens improved their secondary by signing cornerback Marcus Peters, who managed an interception in his first appearance with the team. Fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith should also be healthy against the Patriots.
The secondary was expected to be the strength of the team entering the season, but has been susceptible to allowing big plays. This unit has played better over the last two weeks.
The Ravens defensive backs need to stay consistent, especially with the challenges in the pass rush, which has managed just 12 sacks thus far.
“I mean, obviously, we’d like to get the quarterback down more, and we’re gearing towards that. Someone gave me a stat [saying that] we lead the NFL in hits,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen recently said. “Well, hits aren’t good enough. We want to get them down. Obviously, you want to affect the quarterback.”
Much of the Ravens’ success against the Patriots and over the final stretch of the season will hinge on quarterback Lamar Jackson. He has become a vocal leader and has the ability to take over the game. Jackson will be the focal point of New England’s stout defense, which leads the NFL with 31 sacks.
Harbaugh has been okay with Jackson’s run-to-pass ratio.
Jackson is ranked sixth among all players with 576 yards rushing with three touchdowns on 83 carries. He also has completed 136 of 215 pass attempts (63.3 percent) for 1,650 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Ravens need to keep him healthy to stay in the thick of the playoff race. Jackson is not going to change his style of play because it’s been so successful.
“I’m pleased that he’s been able to avoid the big hits, of course,” quarterbacks coach James Urban said. “Listen, he has a unique ability. Within that, we talk about getting all you can get, and then get down or get out. And you see him routinely trying to get outside, and we’re trying to do those sorts of things to avoid some of those hits.
“But for the most part, I would say that it’s him sticking to our game plan and how we talk about things.”
The Ravens are five-point underdogs against New England.
Harbaugh and his coaches also had an extra week with the bye to prepare for the game.
The challenge will not faze the Ravens, who seem to be at their best when no one believes in them.