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Critical Stretch

Calais Campbell
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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The Ravens season will be defined in the next seven weeks.

Over that stretch, they’ll play five AFC North opponents and the division could come down to the final game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens are in first place heading into this critical stretch, so they do control their own destiny for the playoffs.

However, they will face some tough tests against the Browns, Bengals, and Steelers.

The AFC North is the only division in the NFL where every team has a winning record.

“It’s just a great division,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I have been in this division now for many years, and it’s always like that. It really doesn’t really matter what the records are; it’s still always really, really tough to play these games, yet now, everybody is above .500, and everybody is in it. And all the games are now at the end, between all of us, so it’s going to be pretty exciting.”

The Ravens cannot afford to slip against their division rivals. They already lost to Cincinnati 41-17 on Oct. 24 at M&T Bank Stadium. The Bengals beat the Steelers and looked like the class of the division until they lost two to the Jets and Browns.

The Bengals could be a force down the stretch if they find their early-season form.

Pittsburgh was expected to struggle this season, but here it is, right in the thick of the playoff hunt. However, the Steelers are dealing with a myriad of injuries and the offense has been largely inconsistent.

This was the year that Cleveland was supposed to take the division. But the Browns are in last place at the midpoint of the season. Cleveland is dealing with some internal strife and questions abound about quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has played with various ailments throughout the season. If the Browns don’t make the playoffs, Baker’s future becomes murkier heading into his contract year.

The Raves host the Browns on Nov. 28 and then travel to Cleveland on Dec. 12. Cleveland has its bye in between those games. The Ravens can knock them out of the playoff picture with a sweep.

The Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Dec. 5 and then finish the regular season with the rematch at M&T Bank Stadium. That last matchup could decide the AFC North and playoff seedings.

The Ravens play at Cincinnati on Dec. 26 in a revenge match.

“It’s hard to win in the National Football League; it’s a big challenge,” Harbaugh said.

The biggest question surrounding the Ravens is with quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was reportedly so sick that he didn’t even know that the team plane landed in Chicago on Sunday.

Instead, backup Tyler Huntley got the start and led the Ravens to a come-from-behind 16-13 victory.

The hope is Jackson will be back in the lineup this week against the Browns. The Ravens’ season ultimately will go as far as Jackson will take them.

Harbaugh expressed some optimism this week that Jackson will be back in the lineup.

“They tested. There’s no influenza, there’s no COVID, so I don’t know – I’m sure if he doesn’t clear up, they’ll keep testing, but I’ve got to think it’s going to clear up. We’ll pray for that,” Harbaugh said.

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