Eisenberg: Ravens Games Have Been More Fun Than Scoreboard-Watching

QB Lamar Jackson

For the Ravens to secure a spot in the AFC playoffs, they need to take care of their own business in the next two weeks and also receive some help in the form of a loss by one of their fellow wild-card contenders.

Which of those two scenarios do you feel better about?

I certainly feel good about the Ravens' chances of winning out. They'll close out their home schedule Sunday against the New York Giants, who are 5-9. Then they'll finish the regular season in Cincinnati against the Bengals, who are 3-10-1 after shocking the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night. The Ravens dominated the Bengals in Baltimore, 27-3, in October.

Anything can happen, as the Bengals' win over the Steelers demonstrates. But the Ravens will be big favorites in their games, and more importantly, they're playing their best football of 2020, especially offensively, after enduring a tough stretch in the middle of the season. They've scored 34, 47 and 40 points in their last three games, all wins.

But as for that help they need, well, let's just say they've had more fun playing than scoreboard-watching the past few weeks.

Here's the deal: They need the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns or Miami Dolphins to lose a game – just one of them, one time. But all three won Sunday. The Dolphins trailed the New England Patriots at halftime before rallying. The Colts almost went to overtime with the Houston Texans, but they saved the day by forcing a fumble near their goal line in the final seconds.

It was the second straight week that the Ravens received little to no help from outside sources, and while there's still time for things to work out, I don't think I'm alone in acknowledging that the situation is a tad unsettling.

Yes, the Colts, Browns and Dolphins all have tough games remaining. But they're playing well. At this point, the Ravens have to accept that their best efforts down the stretch might not be enough.

The Ravens could finish 11-5, in an expanded seven-team playoff field, and still not get in. That's only happened twice since 1978 when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule (1985 Broncos and 2008 New England Patriots), and that was with only six playoff qualifiers.

They have only themselves to blame. They're in this pickle, depending on others, because they lost too many games earlier.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh constantly preaches that every game is equally important in the end, no matter the opponent or when the game is played. This is a textbook example of what he's talking about. The Ravens' loss to the Patriots didn't seem as meaningful as their losses to the Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, but weeks later, the Ravens are one win short and ruing a missed opportunity against the Patriots, who have a 6-8 record.

Now, the Ravens need help from, of all people, the Steelers, who host the Colts this Sunday and then finish the season against the Browns in Cleveland. But the Steelers are struggling, having lost three straight games after winning 11 in a row to start the season.

Can I hear you say, "Come on, Ben!"

If the Steelers lose out, the Browns could steal the AFC North title. But the Steelers need just one win to secure the division, and that win would help the Ravens make the playoffs.

There's also another option for the Ravens to monitor, as the Dolphins finish the season with back-to-back road games against the Las Vegas Raiders and division-winning Buffalo Bills – the latter a tough assignment. One loss by Miami would also do the trick. Two losses by the Dolphins would (gasp!) mean the Ravens could actually drop a game and still get in.

It all points to the Ravens likely getting the help they need, which is why ESPN's Football Power Index gives them an 84.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Colts have a 90.6 percent chance and the Browns are at 90.1 percent, with the Dolphins lagging at 35.8 percent.

The Ravens obviously are rooting for that help to come sooner rather than later, meaning this weekend, as the alternative is for them to go into their season finale without control of their fate. Not ideal.

But they'll take it whenever they can get it, and meanwhile, their job is to pay no attention to any of this and focus on what they can control, i.e., their games. They're quite good at that, and this is no time to stumble. Their margin for error almost surely has vanished.

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