Ravens players and coaches routinely talk about breaking the 16-game regular season in quarters.
After the first three quarters, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to make their fifth straight run at the postseason and win the division in back-to-back years for the first time under Head Coach John Harbaugh.
But for that to happen, the Ravens will need a strong finish through a brutal final month of the schedule, which includes two games against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and matchups with three of the hottest teams in football.
“We are excited about the fact that we are in that phase of the season right now, and we are excited about the fact that we are in the position to do something [and] that it is meaningful football in December,” Harbaugh said. “We are looking forward to that opportunity, and we are going to do our job to make the most of it.”
The Ravens will face off with the Redskins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals to finish the regular season. Those four teams have a combined record of 29-19, compared to a record of 67-79 for the Ravens’ first 12 opponents.
While the Ravens have a challenging road ahead, they have historically played some of their best football late in the season. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens’ 14-6 mark in December and January is the second-best record in the NFL since 2008.
“The bottom line is everything we do is to gear the program toward December,” Harbaugh said. “We feel like we are built for December football. That’s our goal: to be at our best in December.”
Here is a closer look at the four remaining opponents on the schedule:
Washington Redskins (6-6, Current Streak: Won 3)
The Redskins are surging on the arms and legs of Rookie of the Year candidate Robert Griffin III. The dynamic quarterback has led the Redskins to three straight victories and has them in the thick of the NFC East playoff race. RGIII has taken the league by storm this year and broke Cam Newton’s record on Monday for the most rushing yards ever (714) by a rookie quarterback. In addition to RGIII, the Redskins offense is also led y by rookie running back Alfred Morris, and the duo has combined to give Washington the best rushing attack in the NFL.
Denver Broncos: (9-3, Current Streak: Won 7)
The Broncos have already wrapped up the AFC West crown and secured at least one home playoff game. Now they have their sights set on the No. 2 spot in the AFC, which makes the Week 15 showdown at M&T Bank Stadium a critical game. The game could decide which of the two teams gets a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the divisional round. Quarterback Peyton Manning has returned to form after missing all of last season with a neck injury, and he’s one of the leading candidates to win his fifth Most Valuable Player award. He currently ranks second in the NFL with 29 passing touchdowns and a 104.6 quarterback rating. The Broncos also have a dominant defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller, who has 15 sacks and five forced fumbles.
New York Giants (7-5, Current Streak: Lost 1)
The Giants are coming off a Monday Night Football loss to Griffin and the Redskins, but they have a history of making late-season charges into the playoffs. The Giants made the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record and with a 10-6 record in 2007, and they went on to win the Super Bowl in both years. Quarterback Eli Manning is a proven winner that has two Super Bowl titles under his belt, and the Giants have already beaten some of the NFL’s best teams with wins over Green Bay and San Francisco.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-5, Current Streak: Won 4)
The Bengals have been on a roll as of late and have inserted themselves back into the AFC playoff picture. With four-straight victories, the Bengals are very much in the hunt for a wild-card spot and are still a longshot in the AFC North. If the Bengals stay on their current run, then the Week 17 showdown at Paul Brown Stadium could have significant playoff implications for the Ravens and the Bengals. The good news for the Ravens is that they have already beaten the Bengals once this season, a 44-13 thumping to open the regular season. But the Bengals look much improved since then, and are led by second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, who has quickly become one of the best receivers in the NFL.