I certainly don’t want to disturb the karma of “the next game up” concept preached by John Harbaugh, because the Ravens still have to come out a winner vs. the Jaguars in Week 17 to secure their playoff hopes…
…but assuming they do, how far can the Ravens go into the playoffs?
Let’s revisit some key match-ups the Ravens have faced during the regular season…
Ravens vs. Steelers, Weeks 4 (20-23 OT) and 15 (9-13), L x 2: “Dominated” might be too strong a word for these defensive battles, but for the first three quarters, the Ravens statistically beat the Steelers in both of these games. However in the end, the Steelers came up with a game-winning drive to seal the deal, again, for both games.
Titans @ Ravens, Week 5 (13-10), L: This game eerily resembled both match-ups with the Steelers…strong defense and low-scoring offense for both teams. Like the Steelers games, the Titans came up with a game-winning drive at the end.
Ravens @ Dolphins, Week 7, (27-13), W: Coming off a three-game losing streak, this game could easily be highlighted as the turnaround game for the Ravens’ season. As usual, the Ravens-D was dominant, but the offense came into their own scoring two TD's, one in the air and one on the ground.
Of course, Terrell Suggs’ pick-6 in the second quarter helped to “light a fire” under the team and get things going. This match-up is particularly important because in all likelihood there will be another Ravens @ Dolphins match-up in the wild-card round of the playoffs!
Raiders @ Ravens, Week 8, (29-10), W: The Ravens' victory over the lowly Raiders in week 8 might not seem too important, but this is the game that cranked up the Baltimore fans' enthusiasm for the Ravens’ offense.
In this game, Cam Cameron opened up the “wildcat” play book to make Joe Flacco a receiver of a 43-yard toss from the No. 2 QB Troy Smith.
Again, this may not seem important, but it is likely the Ravens were just as enthusiastic about the play-calling in this game as the fans were. After 10 years of the most predictable play-calling “ever”, what a breath of fresh air!
Ravens @ Browns, Week 9, (37-27), W: At this point of the season, the lowly Browns weren’t so lowly and attempting a comeback from a disappointing 0-3 start. In week 9, the Browns were winners of three of their last four games…one of which being a 35-14 stomping of the now No. 1-seeded NFC East Champion (& ’07 Superbowl Champion) NY Giants.
Although the Ravens routed the Browns easily in week 3, this game is where the Ravens learned how the come from behind win. Down 27-13 late in the third quarter, the Ravens scored 24 unanswered points to sweep the Browns in ‘08.
Since their defeat to the Ravens, the Browns have lost seven of their last eight games. Coincidence?...maybe?
Also, Ed Reed came away with two interceptions of which one went back for a touchdown while setting a record for the longest pick-six in NFL history.
The offense held their own throughout the game vs. a tough and “blitz happy” Eagles defense.
Redskins @ Ravens, Week 14, (10-24), W: Labeled the “Beltway Bowl,” the Ravens secured four years of bragging rights in their rout of the Redskins. Remember in the fourth quarter when the Ravens performed that special drive…12 plays, 10 by way of McClain on the ground, capped off by a 28-yard TD pass to Mason? That drive broke the Skins’ backs!
Ravens @ Cowboys, Week 16, (33-24), W: “How About Them Ravens, Hon?” This game was a setup if ever there was one? It is rumored (and highly likely) that the Ravens were hand picked by Cowboys owner/General Manager Jerry Jones to compete with the Cowboys in the last game at the “hole in the roof” Texas Stadium. Undoubtedly, Jerry must have thought the '07 5-11 Ravens would be the ones to show up?!?!
Once again, this was a defensive battle laced with heroics on the part of special teams and the offense, e.g., 77- and 82-yard runs (McGahee and McClain), a gimpy Derrick Mason and fake punt for first down (Sam Koch) in another “crazy” offensive drive.
As Ray-Ray said in the post-game interview, “be careful when picking your poison!” The only thing more fitting for the Ravens rout of the Cowboys in week 16 was if it had occurred in week 17.
It would have been the perfect ending of the regular season headed into the playoffs…what momentum this should bring?
Then there are the two awful games vs. the Colts and Giants. I’m thinking (hoping) these two games were more of an aberration for the Ravens vs. how they should normally match up against these two great teams!
…so with all of this being revisited, what does it mean to the Ravens in the playoffs?
Generally speaking, the Ravens match-up well with most, if not all, of the teams likely headed for the playoffs this year. They’ve already faced and competed very well with the two top seeds in the AFC (twice with Steelers) and while they were crushed by the top NFC seed NY Giants, again I think that was an aberration and would match-up well if the opportunity were to arise again.
The only real concern I have for the Ravens' playoff run is if they were to face the Colts. I fear the Ravens consider Peyton Manning and Co. to be a huge “monkey on their backs” after their past several meetings, but hopefully John Harbaugh & Co will be able to curtail any PTS (post traumatic stress).
The 31-3 loss to the Colts in week 6, again, was an aberration…and may have been the result of that Colt “monkey” not only being on their backs, but in their heads. If the “monkey” leaves, I think the Ravens could put plenty of pressure on Manning and destroy the Colts much the same way as was done to the Cowboys.
How far can the Ravens go in the playoffs? Only time will tell?
…but in the meantime, here is an article with a very interesting, conceivable & hopeful Raven playoff prediction.