NFL Playoff Scenarios: Possibilities and Predictions for the Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are as strong as they have been in years.
The defense has been largely dominant, and the offense, while inconsistent, has come through when needed. With an elite running back, a solid offensive line, and a stifling defense, the Ravens are set up for a deep playoff run.
How deep they manage to advance depends on how they finish the regular season. If the Ravens falter and give up home-field advantage, they could struggle to advance against elite teams like the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If they finish strong with home-field advantage and a division title, the Ravens are set up to potentially make a Super Bowl run.
While the next three games will likely decide the Ravens ultimate fate, here is a list of playoff projections for the Ravens.
Home-Field Advantage: Divisional Round vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Ravens lock up home-field advantage and a first-round bye, they will likely be playing the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs.
At home against the Steelers this year, the Ravens dominated 35-7.
On the road, they squeaked out a 23-20 win, punctuated by the best drive of Joe Flacco's career. The Ravens managed to step up against an elite opponent both times.
Both teams fully expect to play each other three times every year.
The home team has held the advantage in this series, so home-field advantage is crucial in this rivalry. In a playoff atmosphere in M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens should play their most energized football of the year.
The Steelers won't be able to handle the Ravens' raw emotion, and the Ravens should advance in a tight, defensive struggle.
Home Field Advantage: AFC Conference Championship vs. New England Patriots
After defeating the Steelers, the Ravens welcome the Patriots to M&T Bank Stadium to determine who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have been one of the more controversial teams in the NFL this year.
Some point to the elite play of Tom Brady and the offense, arguing that they can outscore anyone in the league. Others note the weaknesses in pass defense, arguing that the Patriots can't hope to succeed if they can't stop anyone.
After a defensive struggle against the Steelers, the Ravens would have to prepare for a high-scoring game. The Ravens defense is very good, but the Patriots should be able to put up points by getting the ball to Wes Welker and their two tight ends on quick routes.
While the Patriots will put up points, the Ravens offense will be more than up to the task of matching them. Against one of the worst defenses in the league, Joe Flacco could put up gaudy passing totals en route to a solid offensive performance.
The Patriots offense is a bit better than the Ravens' offense, but the Ravens' defense is much better than the Patriots'.
In the end, the Ravens will stop the Patriots' offense from taking over, and the Ravens advance to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl vs. Green Bay Packers
Anyone who is following the NFL this year is almost taking for granted that the Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl.
They continue to win by dominating on offense and playing aggressive defense.
At this point, they could be fighting to be the first team in NFL history to finish 19-0.
Regardless of whether or not the Packers are perfect at this point, they are still the best team in the NFL. Their offense cannot be stopped, and their defense produces enough turnovers to keep other teams from keeping up with the Packers gaudy point totals.
The Ravens defense might be the best unit that the Packers have played all year, but the Packers offense should be able to pick apart the Ravens secondary.
Even against tough secondaries, Aaron Rodgers has been dominant.
The Packers should have little trouble producing enough points.
The Ravens offense should be able to make this an exciting game, though. The Packers defense has had difficulties this year, and Joe Flacco should be riding high after playing the Patriots' weak secondary. The Ravens should put up points, but they might also produce a few turnovers.
In the end, the Packers offense is too good, while the Ravens offense will probably produce a few turnovers against the Packers opportunistic defense.
Count me among those brainwashed analysts who believe that the Packers can't lose. The Packers will win the Super Bowl, regardless of who the AFC sends.
Wild Card Round at Denver Broncos
If the Ravens don't win out, they will likely be the fifth seed. This would force them to travel to fourth-seeded Denver to take on Tim Tebow and company.
The Ravens have made a habit of exposing overrated teams in the playoffs in the past few years.
In 2010, the Ravens destroyed the Patriots in the Wild Card round on the back of a stifling defensive performance and a dominant game from Ray Rice. In 2011, the Ravens dominated the outmatched Kansas City Chiefs, exposing them as beneficiaries of an easy schedule.
This game would likely follow in this recent trend.
What Tim Tebow has managed to do is astounding, and there is no better quarterback in the last two minutes of the game.
In the first three quarters, though, there is no worse quarterback in the league.
The Ravens defense will absolutely dominate the Broncos by shutting down their running game and by forcing Tim Tebow into numerous mistakes. He has yet to play a defense of this caliber, and he will not be up to the task.
The key to this game will be if the Ravens can score against the Broncos defense, which has experienced a dramatic turnaround.
Still, they haven't been playing elite offenses, and the Ravens should be able to run the ball effectively. This will set up play-action passing, and Joe Flacco should be able to capitalize.
The Ravens should be able to score enough points to keep Tim Tebow from thinking about any last minute heroics.
The Ravens should have little trouble advancing to the divisional round.
Divisional Round at Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Ravens falter, but the Steelers win out, the Steelers will be the No. 1 seed because of a head to head tiebreaker against the Patriots. Thus, the Ravens would travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers for a third time.
The key to this game would be whether the Ravens can beat the Steelers in their home stadium twice in one season.
The simple answer is no.
These two teams are incredibly evenly matched, and some still believe that the Steelers are a better team than the Ravens. The Steelers would be seeking revenge, and they should be able to get it.
The matchups are no different than if the Ravens were at home, but that extra push from home-field advantage would push the Steelers over the Ravens.
Why the Next Three Games Matter
The Ravens are 7-0 at home this season and 3-3 on the road.
The Ravens need to win their next three games to lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If they can force the Steelers and the Patriots to come to Baltimore, they can advance to the Super Bowl.
If they fail, though, and are forced to travel to Pittsburgh or New England, hope that they can make a deep playoff run is slim.