Things may feel like they're over in Baltimore, but there's reason for hope—starting this Sunday against the Giants.
It's been since 2009 that the Baltimore Ravens have lost three games in a row, and since 2007—predating the current John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco regime—that they've lost four games in a row. (in fact, that season, they strung together nine losses in a row, for a 5-11 record). The Ravens need to prevent a fourth-straight loss this week, even if they have already clinched themselves a playoff berth, just to simply save their collective sanity.
If there's one thing to define the Ravens' 2012 season, it's injury. Most of these injuries have occurred on the defensive side of the ball—the area in which the Ravens have been the most strong—and as a result, the team has had to rely on its offense more than it has in the Harbaugh-Flacco era.
This has produced a mixed bag of results as well as an offensive coordinator change, with Cam Cameron swapped out last week for Jim Caldwell. The move appeared to be rooted in panic or desperation (when is the last time we've seem the Ravens do something this bold, in-season?) and didn't produce the desired results in Week 15, with the Ravens losing again, this time at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
Despite the loss, however, the Ravens are in the playoffs, though it's yet to be determined whether that will be as AFC North champions or as a wild-card entrant. That's a far cry from where they were three weeks ago, holding a 9-2 record and a seemingly impervious control over the division. If they lose for a fourth straight time this week, the panic bubbling under the surface in the Cameron firing could boil over, harming the Ravens' chances against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 as well as in the playoffs the following week.
There is reason for nervousness in Baltimore of course, as this just isn't the team we're used to seeing. The tough-as-nails pass-rushing defense just hasn't been there this year, with many injuries taking out high-profile player after player. Ray Rice has been getting fewer carries than his talent or paycheck would otherwise warrant, and the result has been an erratic offense led by an erratic quarterback, Joe Flacco.
The Ravens' responses to these issues have been simultaneously not enough. Now they're a team without an identity, trying to rebuild what is broken at exactly the worst possible time.
Things seem bleak, but it could be far worse. The Ravens are guaranteed a postseason berth for the fifth time in as many years and it's quite possible their offensive issues iron themselves out with another week of game preparation after the switch from Cameron to Caldwell.
It's important that the Ravens don't embrace the panic-inducing parts of their present situation and abandon the very tangible hope they also have. A win over the New York Giants on Sunday would do a lot to further those efforts.