Halfway through the season, the Ravens are disappointed to be 4-4, having lost three of their last four games and believing they should be better than .500.
That has prompted some to characterize Sunday's home game against the Steelers as a "must win." It is a pivotal game for certain, but the outcome won't make or break Baltimore's season.
Here are three things to remember as the Ravens prepare for their biggest game to date:
Both Ravens Super Bowl teams suffered through a three-game losing streak.
If you are a Ravens fan who wants to remain optimistic should they lose Sunday, remember the team's history.
A loss would leave the Ravens 4-5 entering their bye week, riding a three-game losing streak. However, the Ravens were the last team to win a Super Bowl after losing three straight. They did it in 2012, after dropping three straight to fall from 9-2 to 9-5. They never lost again. The Ravens clinched a wild card spot by winning their final two games, Joe Flacco went on a brilliant playoff run, and Baltimore defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team also lost three straight before their defense led by Ray Lewis became a dominant force. Those Ravens regrouped and embarrassed the New York Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV.
Nobody is suggesting the Ravens would be in good position for a Super Bowl run if they lose in Weeks 7, 8, and 9 like the 2000 Ravens. However, the Ravens aren't toast if they lose Sunday either.
The Ravens will have a difficult time winning the AFC North if they don't win Sunday, and that's a problem.
If you aspire to win the Super Bowl, winning the division is important. The 2010 Green Bay Packers were the last wild-card team to win a Super Bowl. It seems to be getting more difficult for wild-card teams to make a Super Bowl run. It is a daunting task to win three playoff games on the road. Even when the Ravens won four post-season games to capture their last Super Bowl, they began the playoffs at home. They won the AFC North in 2012 and opened the playoffs at M&T Bank Stadium with a victory against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Ravens can remain squarely in the picture for a division title by winning Sunday and sweeping the season series against Pittsburgh. That would send the Ravens into their bye (Week 10) on a high note before another huge AFC North home game against the Bengals in Week 11. If the Ravens beat Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Ravens will be no worse than second in the AFC North heading into Week 12.
However, a loss Sunday would leave the Ravens 2 ½ games behind Pittsburgh and in third place in the AFC North. It's unlikely the Ravens will win the division from that position, which would made it difficult for them to do anything special, if they make the playoffs as a wild card.
Ten wins is often the magic number, which leaves the Ravens little margin for error.
Winning 10 games or more generally gets you into the playoffs. The 2015 New York Jets were the last 10-win team to miss the postseason. The last 10-win team from the AFC North to miss the playoffs was the 2007 Cleveland Browns.
In three of the past five seasons, at least one 9-7 team from the AFC made the playoffs as a wild card. But nine wins is no guarantee.
The Ravens know all about that. They finished 9-7 last season and didn't get in. The Los Angeles Chargers also were 9-7 last year and didn't get in. Meanwhile, both the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills finished 9-7 last year and made the playoffs, even though many people felt the Chargers and Ravens were more playoff-worthy. That's why you don't want to rely on tiebreakers.
Having missed the playoffs the past three seasons, the Ravens want badly to control their destiny. They still can. But they have a tough December schedule with games at Atlanta, Kansas City and the Chargers. Winning at home is paramount for the Ravens if they going to reach 10 wins. If they win out at M&T Bank Stadium, they're at nine wins. Losing Sunday would make getting to 10 more difficult than it already is.