Can Harbaugh's Ravens hold off Tomlin's Steelers?
In a season in which the validity of the Baltimore Ravens has been questioned, the playoffs and a division title have never seemed more attainable for this team than they do now after 10 games.
Despite an uncharacteristically shaky defense that often seems porous against the run, an inconsistent offense that tends to disappear for quarters at a time and ugly wins over flat-out bad teams that shouldn't compete with playoff contenders, the Ravens are 8-2 for the first time in franchise history.
And while many still question whether Baltimore is really as good as its record (Grantland’s Bill Simmons referred to it as a “flimsy” 8-2), the Ravens have a comfortable two-game lead over the currently Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even if the Ravens’ remaining six games are against some good teams with potent offenses and dangerous quarterbacks—like MVP front-runner Peyton Manning—it is hard to see the Steelers making a legitimate run at the division title without Roethlisberger for at least a few more weeks. The Cincinnati Bengals are three games back at 5-5, and it is highly unlikely that they will leapfrog both Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the next six weeks.
Some people may call it a lucky break for the Ravens that Ben Roethlisberger was injured for the game in Pittsburgh this past Sunday night. They would also say that the Ravens will be lucky if he misses the rematch in Baltimore.
And you know what? Those people are correct.
Losing a starting quarterback, especially one as great as Roethlisberger, is devastating to a team, and Pittsburgh can only hope that it is still in the hunt when he returns.
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That’s the way the NFL works sometimes, and the Ravens can’t control whom the other team puts out on the field on game days. And while the Ravens still have their quarterback healthy, they have suffered significant injuries to key players on every level of their defense.
They did what they needed to do to get a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday, as they will attempt to do against the remaining six teams they face.
And even with the struggles on both offense and defense this year, Baltimore is tied for second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-12, which is one of the most important statistics for the success of a team.
The offense, while inconsistent at times, doesn't turn the ball over frequently. The defense, while allowing more yards than it should, can take away the ball. Also, the special teams have provided a huge spark this season. Jacoby Jones has three return touchdowns, and the coverage units have not allowed a score.
Simply put, the Ravens are still a good team that knows how to win. Even though they haven’t wowed the NFL too often this season, they have ground out win after win in typical Raven fashion to give an already successful franchise its best-ever 10-game start.
The schedule has some very tough games remaining. However, with Pittsburgh hanging on for dear life without Roethlisberger, and Cincinnati doing very little to look like a legitimate playoff team, it would be a shock if the Ravens did not win the division title this season.