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Baltimore Ravens: 3 Factors Keeping Them from Being Super Bowl Favorites

David A. CucchiaraCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2016

Baltimore Ravens: 3 Factors Keeping Them from Being Super Bowl Favorites

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    This Baltimore Ravens have been playing awe-inspiring football, but don’t write them off as Super Bowl favorites just yet.

    There are a few factors, internal and external, that could jeopardize the Ravens playoff success.

    Their 5-1 record gives them a commanding lead atop an AFC North division full of inconsistent teams. As long as they can maintain their intensity, they should have no problem qualifying for a playoff spot.

    There’s little doubt at this point that the Ravens are the best team in their division, but are they Super Bowl favorites?

    Right now, not so much.

    Fans should expect January football with little question, but they’re missing a few key pieces to their equation that could jeopardize their playoff success.

    Here are five reasons the Ravens fall short of being Super Bowl favorites.

Strength of Schedule

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    The Ravens have a lot to prove over the next ten games, and they have to do it against quality competition.

    Prior to the start of the season, the Ravens ranked fourth in strength of schedule according to ESPN. Opponents shared a combined record of 134-122 last year.

    In their next ten games, the Ravens will face seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger twice. For a defense that has failed to meet high expectations, this could mean trouble for a confident Ravens squad.

    While their defense has struggled, they’re going to have to match up with some of the better defenses in football.

    Next Sunday the Ravens travel to Houston to take on dangerous Texans team. Houston team is home to the seventh ranked defense against the pass, as well as the rush. They’re holding opponents to just 87.7 yards on the ground and an impressive 213.2 yards through the air per game.

    In Week 11 and 13, the Ravens match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is by far the best 2-3 team in the NFL, losing by a field goal in two of their losses.

    The Steelers are also fifth in total defense and seventh in passing yards per game.

    The road to the playoffs won’t be easy for the Ravens, but this team is too talented to not be playing football in January.

Injuries

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    For a team that ranks 26th in total defense, recent injuries may deter chances of improvement.

    Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis has put together quite an impressive resume in the NFL. He’ll be a first ballot hall-of-famer, an honor that may come sooner than expected.

    On Sunday against the Cowboys, the Ravens won the game, but lost their leader. Lewis completely tore his triceps and is now out for the remainder of the season.

    In May, another leader in the Ravens linebacker core, Terrell Suggs, tore his Achilles during a conditioning drill.

    Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has had his fair share of injuries this season. With the absence of Terrell Suggs and season-ending injury to Ray Lewis, Ngata has become an important piece to this Ravens defense.

    Ngata has battled through knee and shoulder injuries for most of the season, before succumbing to yet another knee injury in Sunday’s win.

    The secondary took a hit in Sunday’s game as well. Cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL and will be out for the season. Webb could pan-out as the most critical of losses for this Ravens’ defense.

    The Ravens need to maintain the health of their defense in order to advance deep into the playoffs.

Joe Flacco's Inconsistency

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    Joe Flacco was the surprise of Week 1, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-13 mauling of the Bengals.

    Since Flacco’s solid start to the season, his performance has fluctuated.

    In Week 2, Flacco struggled against the Eagles. His 232 yard performance included a pick and a failed two minute drill in the fourth quarter.

    Then came Week 3 against the Patriots where Flacco had a career performance. He threw for 382 yards, three touchdowns and led his team to a ten point fourth quarter performance to beat the Pats.

    Flacco did it against Week 4 against the Browns, but then proceeded to flop against Kansas City in a 9-6 win.

    Two things are certain for this year’s playoffs: scoring nine points will not get you a victory and Brandon Weeden won’t be throwing passes.

    Week 7 is the biggest test of the season for not only the Ravens’ defense, but primarily Joe Flacco.

    Here’s a team that defends the rush just as well as the pass. Flacco won’t be able to lean on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice for pressure situations.

    J.J. Watt and this high octane defense will be gunning for Flacco on Sunday.

    Flacco has a chance to prove the perennial doubters wrong with a masterful performance against a likely playoff bound team in Houston. He can also move himself one step closer to dipping a toe into the pool of elite NFL quarterbacks.

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