Eisenberg: Ravens Could Make Playoffs? No, They Should


Although it's seldom true that one win means a whole lot more than another in a 16-game season, the transformative powers of the Ravens' victory in Green Bay are hard to ignore.

When they left town Saturday, bound for Wisconsin on a charter flight, they were a team that could make the playoffs despite a 4-5 record.

When they returned to Baltimore Sunday night, having beaten the Packers at Lambeau Field, they were a 5-5 team that should make the playoffs.

Big difference.

Admittedly, the overnight improvement in their prospects is as much about the other teams in the AFC wild-card race as it is about them. The other contenders for the conference's No. 6 seed are, cough, a somewhat motley crew.

The Buffalo Bills are the only other ones with a .500 record, and they've lost three straight games by a combined 135-55 score. Everyone else in the running has more losses than wins.

Of course, the Ravens also had more losses than wins until their 23-0 triumph in Green Bay. They've had a season of wild ups and downs until now, frustrating themselves as well as their fans with their lack of consistency, especially on offense.

But the Ravens have some things going for them that suggest their circumstances might change down the stretch.

For starters, they've got a schedule any contender would envy. Four of their six remaining games are at M&T Bank Stadium. Only two of those six remaining opponents possess winning records. Several are playing backup quarterbacks, as Green Bay did Sunday.

I'm not sure you could design a more forgiving down-the-stretch schedule even if given the power to do so.

The Ravens also have something going for them that's hard to find anywhere else among the sea of 5-5 and 4-6 teams clinging to playoff dreams – an area of true excellence.

I'm talking about the Ravens defense, of course.

It's currently ranked No. 6 in the league in fewest yards allowed per game, No. 3 in fewest points allowed per game and No. 2 in fewest passing yards allowed per game. Its season total of 23 takeaways is tied for first in the league.

The Ravens offense, ranked No. 31, continues to struggle, but their defense, which has pitched three shutouts in 2017, gives them a distinct advantage over the other contenders for the No. 6 seed.

None of those other contenders owns a top-10 league ranking in either total offense or total defense. Baltimore is the only one doing *something *really well.

The Ravens are also receiving brilliant play from their special teams in many different forms, such as punter Sam Koch dropping five kicks inside the 20-yard line Sunday.

Having a Super Bowl-winning quarterback under center is another advantage separating Baltimore from the other contenders for the No. 6 seed.

That's not to say the others can be summarily dismissed as having no shot. Eight teams, half the conference, are separated by just one game. It's a wild scramble, anything but over.

I'd keep an eye on the Los Angeles Chargers, who have won four of their last six games after opening the season 0-4. Philip Rivers is always a dangerous quarterback, and he's on a roll, tossing 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his past six games.

I'd also keep an eye on the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens' AFC North rivals, who fired their offensive coordinator during an 0-3 start but have since gone 4-3. They're just one game behind the Ravens and visit Baltimore on the final Sunday of the season.

Still, it seems clear that the Ravens, with their shutdown-caliber defense and top special teams, have more going for them than any of these other contenders. The offense is certainly still a work in progress, but if it can limit mistakes and move the chains some, it can be part of a winning blueprint.

"The formula begins to present itself as the season wears on for us," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

No doubt, the team's situation looks a lot more promising than it did just a week ago. That one win in Green Bay was indeed quite a difference-maker.

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