Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron
December 16, 2012
If nothing changes, the Ravens might not beat a quality team the rest of the way.
Congratulations are in order. The Ravens clinched a playoff spot Sunday night, though I'm sure the champagne stayed on ice in the locker room, as they haven't done anything in the past three weeks to help their cause. Shortly after the Ravens got dominated by the Denver Broncos in a 34-17 loss, their third straight, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime, ensuring that the Ravens would be in the playoffs for a fifth straight season. It's an accomplishment that may not be celebrated, but it should not be slighted, as they earned each of the nine wins that got them back to the postseason.
I can't believe I'm saying this -- especially since I suggested that something special was happening with these Ravens just three long weeks ago -- but I can't say with confidence that they will earn another win.
The Ravens have lost three straight games for the first time since 2009, the last time that they stumbled into the playoffs. And it was the first time in the John Harbaugh era that the Ravens lost back-to-back games at M&T Bank Stadium, which was half empty in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss. The offense is somewhere between a hot mess and a dumpster fire at the moment. The defense has been ravaged by injuries, as evidenced by the fact that the Ravens started their fourth cornerback (Corey Graham) and their fifth inside linebacker (Josh Bynes) against the Broncos, and their top defender, Terrell Suggs (pictured), chased after quarterback Peyton Manning with just two fully-functioning limbs. The special teams unit, one of the NFL's best this season, is no longer producing long returns and has allowed opponents to bust ones at critical points in each of these losses. Injuries have a lot to do with it -- Torrey Smith was the latest high-impact player to get knocked out of the lineup -- but the NFL will show them no sorrow.
Up next are the New York Giants, who also suffered an embarrassing loss Sunday, then the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale. That last game in Cincinnati might just be for the AFC North title, which would have been a crazy thought a month ago. And if the Ravens do hang on and win the division, they will likely play the Indianapolis Colts, who have won seven of nine games, in the first round of the playoffs. One of three AFC juggernauts will be waiting after that, but I wouldn't start looking at travel arrangements just yet. The way the Ravens are playing at the moment -- and with standout players such as Marshal Yanda, Jameel McClain and Suggs spending more time with the training staff than their significant others -- a long playoff run doesn't appear to be in the cards, even though Harbaugh is right when he says that everything that the Ravens want to accomplish this season is still ahead of them.