If the Ravens’ disappointing situation heading into their bye feels familiar, there’s a reason. They were in exactly the same place a year ago.
They had a 4-5 record. They were fresh from another defeat, their latest in a discouraging run. Their fast start seemed like ancient history.
As they took a week off before resuming their season, any mention of a possible playoff push elicited a reprise of Jim Mora’s famously sarcastic rant. (“Playoffs? Playoffs?”)
That’s how everyone felt then, and yup, that’s how a lot of fans feel now with the Ravens on a three-game losing streak after Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It feels downright inane to suggest a push to the playoffs is possible when the team is traveling so definitively in the other direction, having dropped from first place to third in the AFC North.
But strangely, the comparison to 2017 actually emphasizes that the Ravens’ season isn’t necessarily over, despite how things look and feel now.
A year ago, they got hot after the bye and won five of six games to put themselves in position to make the playoffs as a wild-card qualifier. All they had to do was win their season finale at home against the long-eliminated Cincinnati Bengals. They had the game in hand until the final seconds when, well, do I really have to go over it again?
It was a brutal ending, but the fact that the Ravens were even in that position indicated that their plight at the bye could be overcome. Inevitably, the same is true this year. The Ravens will still have big goals to play for when they resume their season against the Bengals on Nov. 18.
Yes, the losses have exacted a price. The Ravens’ only realistic playoff hope is to earn the AFC’s No. 6 seed, which goes to the second wild-card team. They trail the division-leading Steelers by three games in the loss column with seven to play, and they’re also three losses behind the Los Angeles Chargers, who currently hold the first wild-card spot. It’s highly unlikely they’ll catch the Steelers or Chargers.
But the race for that No. 6 seed is a different story. The Bengals currently hold it with a 5-3 record, just ahead of the Miami Dolphins, who are 5-4. The Tennessee Titans, whom the Ravens manhandled, are also ahead of Baltimore with a 4-4 record.
The Ravens have ground to make up and teams to catch, but it doesn’t seem like a daunting task. The Bengals appear to be the primary competition, and they’re playing the white-hot New Orleans Saints on Sunday before traveling to Baltimore. The race could look a whole lot different in two weeks.
For the Ravens, everything hinges on that initial game after the bye. They can’t get swept in their season series with the Bengals and hope to finish ahead of Cincinnati for the No. 6 seed. Their playoff possibilities dry up in a hurry if they don’t win that game.
Can the Ravens pull off what they need to do, both in that game and beyond? It’s a fair question after the past three weeks.
Last year, they benefitted down the stretch from taking on lesser quarterbacks such as Brett Hundley, Tom Savage, DeShone Kizer and Jacoby Brissett. This year, they’re due to face Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers, among others. That’s tougher, yet only one of their remaining seven games is against a team currently in first place (Kansas City). And a few non-contending teams are on the schedule (Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland).
You probably don’t want to hear me say this, but who knows what might happen?
No doubt, the Ravens’ margin for error is gone, a casualty of the losing streak. But the fact that they’ve flunked the playoff-caliber sniff test recently doesn’t mean their hopes are preposterous. The season is long, featuring many twists, more of which surely are coming. It doesn’t matter how you get to the postseason, just that you do.
That the Ravens have to play better is obvious. But they’ll return from the bye with all the motivation they need.