Ravens Still Have Much to Prove, Even at 7-4

Derek KreinerContributor INovember 24, 2008

With five games left on the schedule, and the Battle of the Beltway looming, the Ravens could enter week 14 with an 8-4 record, and still having a lot to prove, if not to themselves than to the rest of the league.

If the Ravens win at Cincinnati, and that is a big if, as no game is guaranteed in the NFL, then the Ravens go into the Sunday Night game with Washington, with a chance to prove on a national stage that they are for real. 

There are those that contend that the Ravens are still not for real based on the teams that they have beaten.  The Ravens' wins have come against Cleveland (2), Oakland, Miami, Cincinnati, Houston, and a Philadelphia team that could only play the jokes of the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals, to a tie. 

Many say that the win against Philadelphia proves this team is for real, but as a Ravens fan, even I am still feeling a little bit of trepidation after seeing how this team has performed against the power teams in the NFL this year. 

Philadelphia, despite high preseason expectations, is not a power team.  This is a team that was struggling so badly that coach Andy Reid decided the move that gave his team the best chance of winning was to pull a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback for a second year player who had thrown all of nine passes in the NFL. 

The Ravens have proven to me this year that they can play with the NFL's best, as long as they are not going against one of the Manning Brothers.  Peyton and Eli have combined to go 32 of 51 (62.7 percent) with four TDs and one INT, in their two games against the Ravens. 

While Eli's numbers were hardly impressive in his game, the Ravens as a unit haven't played well against either of these teams.  The Ravens' defense, averaging 23.5 points per game, including those two games, gave up 30 to the Giants and 31 to the Colts

To be fair, the Giants and Colts are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now, and losing to these teams is hardly something to be ashamed of; but it's the way the Ravens were beat. Flacco in these two games combined had a stat line that looked like this: 48 of 71 (67.6 percent), one TD, and five INTs for a passer rating of 57.5. 

Going against teams of that caliber, you can't afford to give the ball away, especially with an aging defense that, even though it is playing at an extremely high level, still needs time on the sidelines to recharge. 

The Ravens have also proved they can play with the elite teams in the NFL, with an overtime loss to the Steelers and a heartbreaking last minute loss to the Titans that was aided by a questionable (to be generous) call from the officiating crew. 

However, these are two teams that are based on running the ball, which, excluding the game against the Giants, has been this team's strength.  The Ravens have been dominating the second half of their games this season, which is a trend that needs to continue in order to win games.

However, in order to not be blown out in the upcoming games against Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington, the Ravens need to put together another game with four solid quarters of football. 

Looking at the way the teams are playing right now, I expect that the Ravens will lose the Dallas game.  I expect the Washington game to be a close win, although a loss in that game would not be a complete surprise.  I expect the Cincinnati and Jacksonville games to be easy wins.  The Pittsburgh game, I believe, will be the deciding factor in whether or not the Ravens make the playoffs. 

With what I believe will be a record of 9-4 heading into this game and the Steelers coming in after what should be two very physical games against New England and Dallas, this could be pivotal. 

I believe the Steelers will lose the New England game on the road, then take care of business against Dallas at home.  This would have the Steelers coming in at 9-4 with a lead in the division on a tiebreaker.  The winner of this game would control their own destiny in the final two weeks, needing to win out to secure the division and a home playoff game.

In a year when many of us expected a 5-11 or 4-12 season, the thought of playing the Steelers at home in December to take a lead in the division is about as close to perfect as it gets.  Making the playoffs would be sweet this year. Beating the Steelers to get there would be even sweeter.