Eisenberg: Ravens Need Home Cooking to Reach Playoffs


Lost in the run-up to the Ravens' trip to Carolina was this ominous factual nugget: The Panthers had won eight straight games at Bank of America Stadium. They hadn't lost at home in more than a year, since Week 6 of the 2017 season.

They were strong at home, in other words, and they proved it again Sunday by handling the Ravens with such ease that the visitors admitted to being surprised, if not shocked.

But while dropping the Ravens to .500 for the season, Carolina actually provided them with the template for how to improve their prospects down the stretch:

Take care of business at home.

Defend their turf as zealously as the Panthers, who now have a nine-game home winning streak.

That brings me to what little solace the Ravens can take from Sunday's thrashing. It was utterly forgettable, but at least their schedule now affords them an immediate chance to re-establish some momentum because their next three games are at M&T Bank Stadium.

Before they play on the road again in early December, the Ravens will host the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 18 and the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 25.

A three-game homestand with a bye in the middle is exactly what the Ravens need … provided they can take care of business where they're supposed to do so.

If they end the homestand with a 7-4 record, having completed a sweep of their series with the Steelers and achieved a split with the Bengals, their season will feel a lot different than it does now.

Of course, winning all three games won't be easy in the least. The Steelers seemingly are rounding into their usual playoff-caliber form. The Bengals seemingly have Baltimore's number, having won nine of the past 12 games between the teams. The Ravens' lack of consistency doesn't encourage visions of a 3-for-3 sweep.

Nonetheless, playing at home should give them an edge. It's why they're favored by Vegas this Sunday despite last Sunday's results. They'll probably be favored again over Cincinnati.

They were certainly a strong home team early in Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure. They went 33-7 at M&T Bank Stadium from 2008 through 2012, when their home environment was deemed as daunting as any in the NFL.

Since they won Super Bowl 47, though, they've been less stellar at home, posting a 28-15 record. That's a .651 winning percentage, still better than average; home teams generally win 57 to 60 percent of the time in the NFL. But there've been crucial lapses like last year's losses to the Bengals and Chicago Bears, which delivered a one-two knockout punch to Baltimore's playoff hopes.

Sure, the home disappointments are partly due to the team not being as strong in general. The Ravens are 44-44 since Super Bowl 47. As Yogi Berra might say, you can't dominate if you aren't dominant.

But the Ravens have exhibited a higher upside in 2018 with their improved offense and defense that can punish. They started strong at home this year when they won their first two games by a combined 57 points and took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 21.

You know what happened, though. The Saints came back to win, echoing those recent home disappointments.

Obviously, it can't happen again. Given the tough road games left on the Ravens' schedule (at the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons, all teams with top quarterbacks), they probably need to win all five of their remaining home games, not just the next three, to have a real shot at making the playoffs.

It's hard to imagine such a run after Carolina, but remember, what happens one week seldom has much bearing on the next week in today's NFL. Narratives constantly change. As Harbaugh noted Monday, opposing offenses are attacking the Ravens differently, with few classic drop-backs since their 11-sack effort in Tennessee. So it's time to adjust. We'll see what happens.

Making corrections and righting yourself can never be taken for granted in a league so competitive, but being at home usually helps. The Ravens are counting on that.

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