Provided nothing terribly silly happens, I think there will be one significant question that will dominate conversation in Baltimore.
“So, like, can you give us a heads-up about when there will be more PS5’s in stock?”
But, like, from a football perspective the question will be something more like, “Now that they’re back on track, can the Ravens make a deep run in the postseason?” They’ve already won three in a row since the COVID outbreak that threatened to completely derail the season and will be favored significantly in their final games against the Giants and Bengals. While there is still some possibility that they could win those two and miss the postseason, they would need only one loss from the Browns, Dolphins or Colts to snag a spot should they handle their own business.
So if we envision the Ravens riding a five-game winning streak into the playoffs — particularly if Weeks 16 and 17 look anything like the absolute shellacking the Ravens handed the Jaguars in Week 15 — can we feel like they’re trending back toward being the team we thought they were just a few months ago?
And with that in mind, my answer is very simple. Yes. I truly believe that despite everything (and, who knows, perhaps in some ways BECAUSE of it), the Ravens are “back.” Just as long as we’re talking about the Ravens from, say, Week 5 or so.
Sure, the loss to the Patriots was horrendous and inexcusable. The first loss to the Steelers and the loss to the Titans were disappointing but 50-50 “toss-up” types of games. What we’ve learned about the Ravens since Dec. 3 is that the bottom hasn’t totally fallen out. The COVID outbreak didn’t end them. Unfortunate results didn’t break them. They’ve rallied. They’ve responded.
As we approach the most important point of the season, the Ravens look capable of being a team that can dominate games on the ground and force turnovers on defense. There are weaknesses in other areas, but that combination is significant enough to potentially be lethal. They’re a legitimate threat again.
What’s more is that when we look at the likely AFC playoff opposition, we’re not exactly overwhelmed. Well, outside of Kansas City anyway. The Chiefs have looked human in recent weeks, but they’re clearly the league’s standard. The Bills appear to be the second-best team in the conference but to be fair, they’ve never won a playoff game as a group either. Everyone else is, well, meh. The Steelers are trending in the wrong direction. The Titans have little to no defense. There’s real reason to believe the Ravens can beat any of the teams they’d face in the wild-card round.
Clearly they need to avoid disaster during the last two weeks of the season just to get there. And they need that minimal amount of help. Plus they need to get healthy. This team can afford to get by without Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Calais Campbell when they’re facing a Jacksonville team that appears to have little interest in anything other than getting the season over with and has to turn to a quarterback (Gardner Minshew) they like so much they wouldn’t play him despite being healthy the previous two weeks. But they’ll need those players should they still be playing past Week 17.
But if you’ll remember how we felt in Week 5, our biggest concern was that a team we believed was a viable Super Bowl contender coming into the season had again fallen short in the most important moment. Their Week 3 loss to the Chiefs was the second straight time they had been on the wrong side of an ass-kicking at the hands of the NFL’s top team. Combining that with their playoff defeat at the hands of the Titans and we had fair reason to wonder about this team’s capabilities in critical situations.
And we still do. While the Ravens have defeated good teams en route to their 9-5 record (namely the Colts and Browns), their losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee remind us that they still have to get over that hump.
They’re a good football team again. They’re a viable threat. They’re probably going to get another shot to prove themselves. But even a thrilling win on “Monday Night Football” in Cleveland can’t give us full confidence that they’re ready to win the biggest games and nothing they’ll do down the stretch can possibly convince us of that either. That can only happen come January.
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