Eisenberg: Ravens Have to Do the Job Themselves, And They Can in L.A.


Since they made Lamar Jackson their quarterback and climbed back into the AFC playoff picture, the Ravens have done what it takes to contend, winning four of their past five games.

The same can't be said for some of the teams the Ravens had hoped would help them.

The New England Patriots fell to the Steelers Sunday in Pittsburgh. The Dallas Cowboys didn't even score a point against the Colts Sunday in Indianapolis.

Sorry to make you re-live that frustrating afternoon, but if anything, those disappointing results, combined with several others, cleared up any uncertainty about what needs to happen for the Ravens to reach the postseason.

They have to do it themselves.

They can't count on anyone offering so much as a fingernail of help, much less an entire hand.

As usual, a seemingly limitless array of possible scenarios is circulating late in the regular season. But instead of detailing all that fine-point blah-blah and the various tiebreaker protocols, I'll simplify things:

If the Ravens win their remaining two games, starting with Saturday night's contest against the Chargers in Southern California, they'll almost surely reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Whether they'd make it as a division winner or wild card depends on other games, but they'd almost definitely qualify. (There's a microscopic chance they wouldn't, but again, to avoid having your mind glaze over, I'll skip the details.)

On the other hand, anything less than a 2-0 finish would likely leave the Ravens on the outside looking in.

So, it's not that complicated. They just have to take care of their own business.

But that isn't going to be easy, not by any means.

The Chargers are 11-3, tied for the AFC's best record, and they're flying high after a road win against the Kansas City Chiefs last week. They also recently won in Pittsburgh.

Those results have made them a smart-guy pick to be playing deep into January, which means you won't be hearing many analysts, if any, picking the Ravens to win Saturday.

But there are reasons to believe the Ravens have a shot.

For starters, they're also one of the league's hottest teams. Jackson is one defensive stop away from being 5-0 as a starter.

Also, the Chargers aren't invincible at the 27,000-seat soccer stadium where they're playing while they wait for their permanent home in Los Angeles to be built. They're 4-2 at the little stadium this season, with none of those wins coming against a team that'll be in the playoffs. (They've beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals.)

No doubt, a cross-country trip to play a hot team isn't what the Ravens want for Christmas, especially during a playoff push. The Chargers might be the AFC's most balanced contender, featuring a likely Hall of Fame quarterback and the toughest defense Jackson has faced since he became the starter.

But after the Ravens almost beat the Chiefs in Kansas City a few weeks ago, it's not unrealistic to suggest they can compete with any team anywhere. Their new style of play "travels" well, i.e., makes them tough on the road. Their running game can control the clock and quiet home fans. Their defense doesn't yield easily.

The Ravens will be a long way from home Saturday night, but with the expected backing of their sizable West Wing fan contingent, they won't lack for support in the small venue. Even if they beat the Chargers, though, they can't relax. They'll almost surely have to win their regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium to officially make the playoffs.

That's no lock. The improved Browns beat Baltimore in October and seemingly grow feistier by the week.

Sure, the holiday season would be more relaxed around here if the Ravens already had their playoff ticket booked. But they have no one to blame but themselves for that. They eliminated their margin for error with too many losses in October and early November.

Would they have the extra wins they need now if they'd turned to Jackson and this new style of play before Week 10? They've certainly become more consistent.

Regardless, they could stand a helping hand now, but they aren't getting it and/or can't count on it, so they have to do the job themselves. Honestly, there are worse fates.

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