The Ravens are in the dance and it's the start of a new year, so this seems like the perfect time to start dreaming big for 2019.
What are the Ravens' chances of reaching, and winning, Super Bowl LIII?
Vegas has released its odds, and Bovada has Baltimore with the sixth-best chances of the 12 playoff teams. The squads with better odds are the Saints, Rams, Chiefs, Patriots and Bears, respectively. There's a steep drop off from the Bears (+700) to the Ravens (+1,300), and the Chargers follow at (+1,500).
In their version, the Chargers are ahead of Baltimore (No. 5 overall) at 4.2 percent. The Saints lead again at 30.5 percent.
"The Ravens' defense has been lights-out during the team's second-half tear, ranked No. 2 below only the Bears in DVOA since Week 11," wrote ESPN's Kevin Seifert. "Offenses carried the regular-season storyline, as they often do in the NFL, but strong defense and special teams are a valued -- and rare -- commodity in the playoffs."
Seifert believes the Ravens' reason for concern is that rookie quarterbacks don't usually have much success in the playoffs. Since 2000, rookie quarterbacks have a 9-12 record. Lamar Jackson is not just a rookie, but the youngest rookie quarterback to ever start a playoff game.
While it's not typical for rookie quarterbacks to have playoff success, it's also not usual for them to win six of their first seven career starts. Soooooo.
First, the Ravens need to get past the Chargers in the wild-card round. Baltimore opened as three-point favorites at home. It's the first time since 2013 that Baltimore has been favored in a playoff game.
NFL Network's Kurt Warner joined "The Rich Eisen Show" and said the team he's most "worried about" in the first round is the Chargers.
"With the matchup they have against the Ravens, the way they played when they were in L.A. a couple weeks ago, the Ravens are a tough matchup," Warner said. "I want to see if the Chargers are that team that everybody's talking about. Can they come out and explode, offensively? Can they shut down that running game, defensively?"
If the Ravens get past the Chargers, it would mean a date with either the top-seeded Chiefs (who they took to the brink in Kansas City) or New England Patriots (who went 11-5 and lost three of their final seven games). In other words, it's a wide-open AFC playoff race.
Baltimore has the third-best chances of being AFC champions to book their ticket to Atlanta. The Ravens are the No. 4 seed, but Vegas believes they are the third-strongest team in the conference.
After Being Bounced From Playoffs, There's Drama in Pittsburgh
Look, the Ravens have nothing but respect for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's well-documented.
But there's no doubt that fans (and even some Ravens players) took a little extra joy in keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs with the win over the Browns. Pittsburgh was pulling for a Browns win haaaaaard.
Turns out, wide receiver Antonio Brown didn't even play in the Steelers' season finale against the Bengals, which the Steelers barely hung on to win, 16-13. After the game, Steelers players and fans hung out in Heinz Field to watch the ending of the Ravens-Browns game. Then C.J. Mosley happened …
Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson didn't hold back their enjoyment of that video.
That's not the end of the Steelers' misery, however.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that it wasn't a knee injury that forced Brown out of the finale, but rather it was the Steelers’ decision after he threw a football at one of his teammates (reportedly Ben Roethlisberger) in anger, then skipped out of practice and meetings the rest of the week.
It's not the first drama involving Brown. Now ESPN's Ryan Clark, a former Steelers teammate of Brown, says Pittsburgh and Head Coach Mike Tomlin need to trade the star receiver.
Add all that to the contract situation of running back Le'Veon Bell, and the Steelers will undoubtedly use the offseason to address these concerns.
Decisions That Led to Ravens' AFC North Title
The difference between winning the AFC North title and being out of the playoffs was razor thin. A tipped and intercepted pass on fourth-and-10. Ravens fans have seen it go the other way. But it's the many decisions behind the title that built the framework for the final glory and shouldn't be overlooked.
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec broke them down, including the decision to stick with Jackson, hiring Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, going offense heavy in the draft and staying healthy for the first time in a long time.
Rex Ryan Surely Loves Martindale's Blitzing and Expects Even More
Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan was no stranger to bringing the heat. So, you can imagine what he was thinking when he saw Martindale, a friend of his, call four straight cover-zero blitzes on the final four plays in Sunday's win.
Now Ryan expects even more blitzing from Martindale when the Chargers come to town this Sunday. The Ravens sacked Philip Rivers four times and hit him eight times two weeks ago.
"They were blitzing like crazy. The Chargers had no answer for it. The pressure was really rattling Philip Rivers," Ryan said on ESPN’s “Get Up!” morning show. "Guess what. If you thought the Ravens blitzed the last time they played, oh my goodness, get ready, it's coming 90 percent of the time."