Upon further review: Mediocre AFC gives Ravens hope

Upon further review: Mediocre AFC gives Ravens hope
November 18, 2013, 11:30 am
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Ravens among 6 teams 4-6, playoffs chances?


Despite being 4-6, the Ravens are fortunate. Being mediocre in the AFC this season is still good enough to be a wild card team. 

Look at the AFC North. Mediocrity. Everybody in the division is 4-6, except the Bengals (7-4), who look almost guaranteed to win the division. 

Look at the AFC East. Nobody except the Patriots (7-2) has a winning record. Or the AFC South, where everyone is under .500 except the Colts (7-3).

Whoever gets the final wild card spot in the AFC doesn’t have to be a solid team. That keeps the inconsistent Ravens clearly in the running, especially with three straight home games coming up. 

The Ravens have not played well this season, but they have not stopped playing hard. Nor are they likely to. They have too much pride, too much work ethic instilled by John Harbaugh during his tenure as coach, and too many players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata who have seen the Ravens escape dire situations in the past.

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Harbaugh doesn’t have to manufacture ways to keep the Ravens motivated, despite Sunday’s gut-wrenching loss in Chicago, despite their inability so far even to get back to .500. The Ravens don’t have to crawl back into the playoff race. They are already in the playoff race, just like a whole group of mediocre teams in the conference.

The most immediate issue for the Ravens is whether they can protect home turf.  They will be favored in these next three home games against the Jets (5-5), the Steelers (4-6), and the Vikings (2-8). Winning at M&T Bank Stadium has been a staple for the Ravens under Harbaugh. Even this season, the Ravens are 3-1 at home. If the Ravens don’t take advantage of this homestand, they won’t make the playoffs, nor will they deserve to.

The Steelers look like the most dangerous of the Ravens’ next three opponents, and the Ravens have themselves to blame. They had a chance to deflate the Steelers last month in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were reeling at that point with a 1-4 record. Had the Ravens won that game on Oct. 20, the Steelers would have been 1-5, and may have gone south. Instead, the Steelers squeaked out a 19-16 victory, and despite trade rumors surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, they have won four of their last five, and have reason to believe. 

Steelers-Ravens games have a history of being pivotal, and their Thanksgiving night matchup could be pivotal. But first the Ravens need to handle the Jets, who were blown out by the Bills on Sunday.

Ten games into the season, the Ravens have played nowhere close to championship level football. Don’t even think about them getting back to the Super Bowl until they at least get back to .500. We’ve seen a lot of things in the NFL, but we have yet to see an 8-8 team or worse make it to the Super Bowl. Both the 2008 Cardinals and the 2011 Giants reached the Super Bowl with 9-7 records, but both of those teams also won their division.

However, it’s not all gloom-and-doom in Ravens-land. They are relatively healthy, they have three straight home games, and they are still in the playoff hunt. The Ravens may not be a special team. But to be the sixth seed in the AFC this year, you don’t have to be special.