Eisenberg: Here's Why This Is an All-Caps BIG Game


There are big games and Big games and BIG games, and for the Ravens, no doubt, Saturday night's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers falls into the latter category.

It's all-caps BIG, which, translated, means "about as important as a game can be." Let's review the stakes. You'll see what I mean.

A win over the Chargers would move the Ravens closer to securing their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. It could even move them closer to winning the AFC North if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Besides those tangible gains (which would likely also require the Ravens to win their regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium), a road win over the 11-3 Chargers would indicate that the Ravens aren't just destined to be someone's playoff patsy if they make it.

Their overtime loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City suggested as such, and a road win over the Chargers would confirm the upside potential of their new style of play featuring rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, a strong running game and a top defense.

If they beat the Chargers and make it to January, they'd go in as for-real contenders, a team you don't want to play, regardless if they're wild cards or division winners.

Could they win a first-round game against the Patriots in New England? There certainly would be things to like about that matchup, starting with Jackson's speed against the Patriots' defense. That's one possible scenario. Another is a first-round rematch with the Chargers, only at home this time.

See what I mean? If the Ravens beat the Chargers to go to 9-6 for the season and 5-1 since Jackson became the starter, things start to get very interesting.

On the other hand, if the Ravens lose to the Chargers, their chances of making the postseason take a major hit. They could even be eliminated by Sunday evening if several other games go the wrong way. Happy holidays!

Keep in mind, unpredictable results are typical in the NFL, so a sequence of events currently unforeseen could always play out. Absent that, though, it's hard to remember the Ravens facing such a dramatic swing of possible scenarios in the regular season, with so much riding on one game.

And those are just the short-term ramifications. The result of Saturday night's game could also produce wildly varying long-term ramifications for the franchise.

The Ravens are already set to enter a new era in 2019 with Eric DeCosta taking over for Ozzie Newsome as general manager and Jackson supplanting Joe Flacco under center. When they had a 4-5 record in early November, it was widely assumed the new era could also entail a major roster overhaul and possible coaching changes. But a win over the Chargers, followed by some January success, would emphasize that the status quo is more formidable than it appeared at 4-5.

There'll still be roster changes, regardless of what happens; the salary cap dictates it. But if 2018 becomes a positive tale, those changes would probably consist of standard-issue evolution more than a complete "tear down."

If the Ravens lose to the Chargers and miss the playoffs, though, it would mean they'd finished 9-7 or 8-8 for the fourth time in the past six years, and they'd be idle in January for the fourth straight year. More significant changes could ensue.

With so much riding on one game, it's fair to wonder if the Ravens might succumb to the high-pressure circumstances and not perform as well. But the players seemed much more focused on the game itself this week, i.e., their X-and-O assignments, as opposed to what it all means and any possible ramifications.

"You think you need to win every game. So, this is really no different," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "We've been feeling that since we've got back off the bye week – that every game is going to be a playoff-type game."

That approach has them back in playoff contention, and now, set to play a game positively dripping with importance. It's not just big, not just Big. It's BIG.

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