Eisenberg: Ravens Have A Real Chance In New Orleans


The NFC South has produced some quality teams in recent years, a No. 1 playoff seed in 2012, a No. 2 seed in 2013, a Super Bowl champion in 2009.

But this year, the division is something of a laughingstock. Not one team is over .500 as Thanksgiving approaches. A 4-6 record leads the division.

We've seen teams with seven wins make the NFL playoffs before, but some analysts think the NFC South could set a new low this year and send a six-win team to the postseason.

As you know, the Ravens and their AFC North brethren are playing NFC South teams this year because of the league's rotating schedule. So far, the series is a mismatch. The AFC North has won eight of 10 games between the divisions. The NFC South has won just one (Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh) and one ended in a tie.

That lopsided record can't help but encourage the Ravens as they head to New Orleans to play the Saints Monday night.

This is a tough assignment. I'm guessing even quite a few Baltimore fans penciled in the game as a probable defeat when the schedule came out last spring. The Saints are usually as dominant at home as any team in the league. They've won 14 straight primetime games in the Superdome.

But now that the game is here, things look a bit different.

Improbably, the Saints have lost their last two home games, including a 17-point humbling at the hands of the AFC North's Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday. They're still the Saints, second in the league in total offense with Drew Brees under center, exactly the kind of matchup that gives the Ravens fits on the road, but they're 4-6 with a struggling defense, considered among the league's biggest disappointments.

What the Ravens need to do is clear. Their "Plan B" secondary has to control Brees at least somewhat, especially on third downs, where the Saints lead the league with a 51-percent conversion rate. And the Ravens offense has to roll, especially on third downs, where it has struggled recently.

To repeat, it's a tough assignment. But the Ravens won their first three games against NFC South opponents by a combined 115-34 score, and overall, AFC North teams have exhibited such vast superiority to the NFC South this season – so far, at least – that you have to think the Ravens' chances are better than people imagined.

The only caveat is the AFC North has hosted a majority of the games between the divisions so far, possibly skewing what the results would seem to indicate. Including Monday night's contest, NFC South teams have five home games left against AFC North opponents, while AFC North teams have just one home game left against the NFC South.

Those remaining games will indicate whether the disparity between the divisions is as wide as it seems. Going forward, the Ravens actually are rooting for the tide to turn, for the beleaguered NFC South to start scoring some wins over the AFC North … after Monday night, of course.

Speaking of the AFC North, I'm a word guy, but I have to admit, words fail me as I try to describe the division's sheer weirdness this season.

I heard someone call it unpredictable, but that doesn't go far enough. The AFC North is more than unpredictable this year. It's NON-predictable. You're better off putting a quarter in a slot machine and trying to guess whether oranges or lemons come up.

A few weeks ago, the Cleveland Browns went into Cincinnati and pasted the Bengals, taking over first place and seemingly making a statement. But the Browns followed that up last Sunday by laying a colossal egg at home against a team with a losing record (Houston), while the Bengals went to New Orleans and won by almost three touchdowns. Huh?

Meanwhile, after blowing out the Ravens earlier this month, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New York Jets, a team with one previous win, and barely survived the Tennessee Titans, a team with two wins.

The Ravens have experienced some serious swings themselves, winning big, losing big. They were in first place, fell to last, and now they're in the middle. The division is up for grabs entering the stretch run, with everyone at least two games over .500. The most consistent of the quartet will prevail, the one playing the best from week to week, the one that is, um, predictable.

I'm trying to remember what that looks like.

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