Eisenberg: Breakdown Of Ravens' Remaining Schedule


It seems like a long time ago that the Ravens were 5-2, in first place in the AFC North and given a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to 538.com, the data-driven sports and politics site owned by ESPN.

Two losses later, they're 5-4 and in last place, and 538.com is saying they have a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. And that was before the news broke about Jimmy Smith being out for the season.

Frankly, I thought their playoff-odds percentage would be lower after Sunday night's loss in Pittsburgh. When you get trounced, it feels like you'll never win again, much less make the playoffs.

But getting blown out actually is part of life in the NFL. It happens to everyone, even good teams. The New England Patriots lost by 26 points in Kansas City earlier this season. The Steelers lost by 21 in Cleveland. But now, New England and Pittsburgh are red hot. They bounced back and it's like those blowouts never happened.

It's natural to think the sky is falling when you lose by 20, but NFL teams turn the page in a hurry. In 2012, the Ravens lost by 17 at home just weeks before going on a Super Bowl run. It's not going to be easy for them to bounce back this year; they have their issues, starting with the secondary. But you can be sure they've moved on from Pittsburgh, and they're still very much in the playoff picture.

Yes, there's a ton of competition, especially for the AFC's wild-card berths. It's too early to pinpoint exactly what needs to happen, but basically, the Ravens need to start accumulating wins, period. I'm thinking they'll need at least 10 to reach the playoffs. Can they get there? Let's break down their seven remaining games and consider their chances:

Must win (2)

Tennessee, Nov. 9 – If you're going to have a playoff-caliber season, you can't lose at home to the 2-6 Titans. Home games against losing teams are gifts from the schedule gods. This one is especially promising because the Titans are playing a rookie quarterback and the Ravens tend to treat those like red meat, especially at home.

Jacksonville, Dec. 14 – The Jaguars have just one win. They're also going with a rookie under center.

Should win (1)

San Diego, Nov. 30 – This one looked tougher a few weeks ago, but the schizophrenic Chargers have lost three straight and 538.com has dropped their playoff chances from 76 percent to 12 percent. Philip Rivers fits the profile of quarterbacks who give the Ravens fits, and I'm sure he'll enjoy facing a secondary without Smith. But the Ravens defense is likelier to rise to the occasion at home.

Jump ball (3)

at Miami, Dec. 7 – The Dolphins obliterated San Diego last Sunday. They're 5-3 with a defense ranked No. 3 in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Ravens are 4-9 in regular-season road games since winning the Super Bowl, so their degree-of-difficulty is high anytime they're away. They stole a win in Miami a year ago, but it won't be easy to repeat.

at Houston, Dec. 21 – The Texans probably aren't playoff-bound, but they're having a nice bounce-back season and will be up for Gary Kubiak's return.

Cleveland, Dec. 28 – For years, the Ravens' home game against the Browns was the surest win on their schedule. No longer. The Browns announced themselves as legitimate with their 21-point win over the Steelers in September, and even more pointedly, with their 21-point win in Cincinnati Thursday night.

Tough to win (1)

at New Orleans, Nov. 24 – The Saints are a .500 team, but playing them in the Superdome is a brutal challenge. They're 3-0 at home in 2014 and have won 11 straight in the dome since Head Coach Sean Payton came off his "Bountygate" suspension.

OK, so let's do some math. The Ravens have five wins now. They can get to eight if they sweep the "must win" and "should win" games, all at M&T Bank Stadium. That leaves the four "jump ball" and "tough to win" games. The Ravens have to split those four to get to 10 wins.

It's far from a certainty. The Ravens need to play better. One way or another, they need to stop giving up so many big passing plays.

But even after two straight defeats, they still have plenty to play for.

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