Inconsistency Plagues Ravens and Other Wild Card Hopefuls

Sam SnyderCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 13:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Lions 48-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

The Ravens, Jaguars, Broncos, Jets, and Dolphins all are in the thick of the race for the AFC wild card spots in the 2009 NFL Playoffs. All of them are in the race because they were too inconsistent to win the division. All of these teams have had games where they have dominated, and they have all had games where they were the ones being dominated.

The AFC Wild Card race is one of the thickest in recent years. No team is going to squeak into the playoffs at 9-7 this year. That rules the defending champion Steelers out. The Ravens, Jaguars, and Broncos are the three teams that stand the best chance. Technically, Miami and New York have a shot at the postseason, but they would need all three of the aforementioned teams to lose out.

If the season were to end now, Denver and Jacksonville would be the wild card spots. This may not be the case after Week 16. The Broncos will need to lose two games to fall out, lose one game and go to a tiebreaker with Baltimore and they win out.

It's safe to say that, barring a disaster, Denver has the No. 5 seed sewn up. Jacksonville has a tough schedule ahead and could quite possibly lose two or more games. Baltimore has one more game with archrival Pittsburgh, but with the way they are playing, the Ravens could beat them. The Ravens play a struggling Chicago team and a savior-less Raiders squad.

But enough with the predictions—the past is what is important here. The Ravens and the others have been able to blow out teams—some of them good, some of them not so good. But they have all been blown out, score-wise or statistically.

The Ravens dominated the poster child of the perennial victim, the Detroit Lions, (48-3). The Ravens set franchise records with 548 total offensive yards and five rushing touchdowns. They also put up 501 yards in a (38-24) statistical blowout against the Chiefs on opening day. Two weeks later, they put the hurt on Cleveland, 34-3, forcing four interceptions.

They also topped archrival Pittsburgh (20-17), and San Diego (31-26).

They made a statement win over the previously undefeated Denver Broncos, 30-7. But it was the three previous losses that would be a sign of things to come. A dropped pass in New England (21-17), a last second drive against Cincy (17-14), and a missed field goal at Minnesota (31-33) set the tone for the second half of the season.

It certainly doesn't help that the Ravens laid an egg in Cincinnati (17-7) and Green Bay (27-14). In both games, the Ravens' defense failed to show up until the second half, and Joe Flacco played terribly, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions in those two games.

Ray Rice has topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career (1,041), and has seven rushing touchdowns, as well as one receiving touchdown—eight more than he had in all of 2008. Rice was also able to put up 100-yard games three times (108, 103, 166). He has also been held under 50 yards three times (36, 47, 48).

Derrick Mason leads the team in receiving yards, with 841. He also surpassed the 800 career receptions mark earlier this year. He has two 100-yard performances (118, 142), but has also been shut out completely in one game and managed only 13 yards against Green Bay. He has six of Joe Flacco's 15 touchdowns.

Perhaps the most inconsistent part of the team is the defense. Although they are still a top 10 squad, they have regressed from last year. They are ranked eighth in rushing defense, 14th in pass defense, and 10th overall. They have given up 24-plus points five times (24, 26, 27, 33, 27). They gave up 24 points to the 30th ranked offense of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Phillip Rivers threw for 420 yards against the Ravens in Week Two. They allowed 516 yards of total offense and an 81-yard catch and run touchdown meant to only go for 10-11 yards in that game.

The Ravens look to be the top contender for the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Jacksonville and Miami have brutal schedules, the Jets aren't good enough, and the Broncos already have the No. 5 seed.