Ravens: The 5 Games of Christmas That Lead to 12-4
The Baltimore Ravens handled their business Thanksgiving night in roughing up the San Francisco 49ers 16-6. In doing so, the Ravens stayed perfect at home this season and control their own destiny heading into Week 13 against the Cleveland Browns. It's been a season of ups and downs for Baltimore, with the team tending to play to the level of their competition.
With five games remaining against opponents they should beat, it's quite conceivable the Ravens will lose one more game before they begin postseason play. Keep in mind, this will be every team's big game, as it has been for most of the season, especially for the teams they lost to.
That sense of urgency will only heighten across the ball from the purple and black, as the regular season winds down. Here's who is left and where the Ravens trip up on their way to a 12-4 record.
First Up...a Box of Browns
The Ravens get their first look all season at the 4-7 Cleveland Browns, as they head back on the dreaded road for a 4:05 match up Sunday afternoon.
After playing over a week earlier, the players will be rested and the coaches will be working with a game plan they've had time to tweak. But when it's Browns vs. Ravens, you can throw the win-loss records out. The Browns naturally kick it up a notch against Baltimore—the city that welcomed their team with open arms, giving them the stadium and stability Mr. Modell wanted and deserved.
The Ravens will get Cleveland's best game Sunday and the Browns played well against Cincinnati, leading the entire game before pulling a "Cleveland" and losing at the end.
This is one of those games that has tripped up this year's Ravens since Week 2 in Nashville. A seemingly winnable game directly following one more challenging and draining, both physically and mentally. The Tennessee and Seattle losses followed the Steelers wins, the loss to Jacksonville after beating a tough Texans team.
This, however, is different. The Ravens are now hip to the week after hangover and rest assured, that's being drilled into the players by Team Harbaugh. In getting past Cleveland, things set up nicely for the Ravens.
The Colts Back in Baltimore!
It's amazing to think that those blue and white helmets with the horseshoe used to belong to Baltimore. Now, for many, the Colts evoke bad memories. Sure, Baltimore still loves the old Colts, like Artie Donovan and Lenny Moore. The bitterness can more accurately be aimed at late owner Robert Irsay and, to a lesser degree, Jim Irsay.
With an NFL history that mirrors Cleveland's, only worse, the Colts seem to rip off some sort of generational scab for older Baltimore football fans whenever the Colts are on the schedule. Well, get ready for Colts week.
But this is not your daddy's football team. Not even close. These Colts are winless and clueless. Oh sure, they get paid, too. Any team can beat another on any given Sunday. Except these Colts. This team shouts out loud the need for NFL teams to have a capable backup QB on the payroll.
Last season, Indy finished 10-6 and lost to the Jets in the wild card game. This season they haven't won a game due to the subtraction of Peyton Manning and somebody in the Colts front office needs to pay for it. One thing's for sure: Painter isn't the answer. The Ravens will get a chance at their 10th win against a team Baltimoreans love to loath, the hapless Indianapolis Colts.
Look for the Colts to roll over for Baltimore and get in position to draft the future: Andrew Luck.
From Colts to Bolts
Could this be the week the Ravens slip back to the pack and lose a game to a team they should beat on paper? As it stands now, San Diego is 4-7 and coming off a 16-13 home loss to the suddenly respectable Tebow Broncos. This sets up perfectly for Baltimore to play down to the opposition, as they've done so many times in 2011.
With only two games remaining, both against familiar division foes, San Diego will be the speed bump that slows down this Ravens juggernaut on the way to playoff football.
How can this happen? This San Diego team is a mess, especially the offense which has sputtered behind an alarmingly erratic Philip Rivers. He's on pace to throw well over 20 interceptions this season and the Chargers just don't win when they turn the ball over. But, this team is still dangerous. Ryan Mathews is on his way to 1,000 yards and Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates can't be overlooked.
Even though to date the Chargers have lost six straight, they'll play their best game of the season and send the Ravens to their fourth loss on Sunday night, Dec. 18. It will be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal Chargers season. It will also cause Baltimore to re-focus as they wrap up the 2011 regular season.
San Diego-24, Baltimore-20
Well, they really had to get that out of the way, didn't they? Things were rolling along a little too well and this Ravens team needs a hiccup, responds to missteps. It's going to be a long, cold Baltimore day for the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 24.
Baltimore will be doubly motivated to, first off, avenge another road loss to a sleep-walking lesser opponent. They'll also be amped to close out undefeated at home and sleep in their own beds before a playoff game. All of this, of course, is subject to change since there is almost a third of the season left and many moving parts. But the fact remains, sweeping Pittsburgh went a long way toward the Ravens writing their own postseason script. A script that will no doubt be set in Baltimore.
One More for the Road
The Bengals and the Ravens are developing quite a rivalry in the AFC North. Were it not for Ravens/Steelers wars that have been waged through the years the Ravens/Bengals might get outsiders more excited.
Marvin Lewis always puts a talented team on the field and really hit the jack pot with Rookie of the Year candidate QB Andy Dalton. That kid's a bona fide star-in-the-making.
The Ravens, though, will not close on a downer. They respect the kind of game the Bengals bring and will be up to the task at Paul Brown Stadium the first day of 2012. This season the Ravens have experienced just the right amount of turmoil to meld a team into playoff material. Not enough and it's possible to lose the prize as New England did after steaming their way to a perfect 18-0 record, before losing to the Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. The Packers are on that same trajectory. Time will tell.
Look for the Ravens to finish out Cincy in a close one.