Eisenberg: Playoffs? How About One Win First?


Everyone is wondering if the Ravens can still make the playoffs after losing their first two games.

My response? Cue up former NFL coach Jim Mora's classic postgame rant.

Playoffs? Playoffs??

Shouldn't we wait until the Ravens win a game before we start trying to calculate their odds of making a seventh trip to the postseason in eight years?

I'm not trying to be flippant. It's just, you know, first things first.

They haven't won in awhile. Before opening the regular season with a pair of losses, they closed the preseason with three straight defeats. That's five in a row overall, and though preseason games obviously don't count or matter, the Ravens haven't walked off a field as winners since Aug. 13. You could say they're out of the habit.

Now, they're facing back-to-back games against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 2-0 in 2015 and 4-1 against Baltimore since late in the 2012 season; and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are always tough, especially at home, and itching to avenge a home loss to the Ravens in the 2014 playoffs. 

It's a tough spot. My thought all along was the Ravens would go 2-2 in this challenging first month, but Sunday's surprising loss in Oakland changes the equation. Now, their best-case scenario is to be 1-2 going into Pittsburgh if they can top Cincinnati in their home opener Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium – by no means a given.

Sure, they've been in tough spots before under Head Coach John Harbaugh, who took over in 2008. That year, they lost three games in a row early, and their prospects looked grim with then-rookie Joe Flacco playing quarterback. But they wound up in the AFC title game. The next year, they also lost three games in a row to fall to .500 in the middle of the season. They ended up making the playoffs.

In 2012, they lost four of their last five games heading into the postseason, pretty much emptying their bandwagon of everyone other than true believers. They ended up winning the Super Bowl.

With all that in mind, it's clearly too soon to write them off in 2015 just because they're 0-2. They haven't even played a home game yet, and they're an impressive 45-11 at home under Harbaugh in the regular season.

But conversely, the fact that they've dug their way out of prior holes doesn't mean it's a lock to happen again.

Those prior teams had decorated veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to help them dig out of trouble. The 2015 Ravens have lost their leader, Terrell Suggs, to an injury. Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda and a few others have been through it, but that's all.

Then there's this: Only 12 percent of the teams that started 0-2 since 1990 have gone on to make the postseason – a frightening stat.

It's somewhat misleading because many teams that start 0-2 are, well, bottom feeders, destined to go nowhere long before they start a season. But there are outliers. The Carolina Panthers didn't fit the prototype in 2013, Steve Smith Sr.'s final year there. They rallied from 0-2 (and 1-3) to win their division with a 12-4 record.

The 2015 Ravens seemingly don't fit the prototype, either. They were a popular Super Bowl pick for a reason. Even in defeat, while leaking oil in various places, they've taken both games down to the final seconds.

A more appropriate question is what prototype they do fit. Their offense has turned in one strong game and one clunker. Their defense has done the same. Who ARE the Ravens in 2015? Harbaugh himself asked that question at his Monday press conference. "Who are we really? That's what we're going to find out in the next few weeks," he said.

September is for teams to try to determine how they're going to win games that season, and the Ravens have only learned what not to do. They need to improve on third downs, both offensively and defensively. (They're 6-for-24, their opponents 17-for-32.) They need to cover and communicate better in the secondary. They need to establish a rhythm in their running game and leave fewer plays on the field offensively. They need to figure out how to generate a pass rush. Harbaugh called out the defense for everything, even its effort, on Monday.

The Ravens need to get better in all sorts of ways. Until they do, why even bring up the P-word?

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content