Big Playoff Ramifications In Ravens-Bears Matchup
We already know the Ravens have a small margin for error if they're going to advance to the postseason.
It's possible Baltimore could nab a playoff berth with a 9-7 record, meaning it can only lose two of their next seven games.
But history underscores the importance of that loss not coming this weekend.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, a meager seven percent of teams with 4-6 starts have made the playoffs (under current system started in 1990). But the playoff percentage of 5-5 teams jumps to 29 percent.
Looking at Ravens history, the chances of a playoff berth would be even worse. As ESPN's Jamison Hensley points out, zero Ravens squads have reached the postseason with a losing record after 10 games. On the other hand, Baltimore advanced 9 of 10 times when having a .500 record or better after 10 contests.
In addition to history, the Ravens remaining schedule suggests this is a "pivotal" game, says Hensley.
If the Ravens pull off the franchise's first win in Chicago, they will be standing .500 with a favorable three-game home stretch against the Jets, Steelers and Vikings.
"The Ravens have had great success under Head Coach John Harbaugh in November and December, and things are set up for them to do it again this year," Hensley concluded.
But can the Ravens pull it off?
Week 11 Picks: Ravens vs. Bears
Analysts give the edge to the Bears playing at home, but it's far from a consensus pick.
Of the Week 11 predictions below, 17 pundits say the Ravens will win, while 27 pick the Bears.
**The Baltimore Sun**: 3 of 7 pick the Ravens
Jeff Zrebiec (Bears 27, Ravens 24): "Running the football and sustaining drives are imperative to winning on the road. Until the Ravens prove capable of doing those things, it's going to be hard for them to win away from M&T Bank Stadium, even against a banged-up and average Bears team."
Aaron Wilson (Ravens 23, Bears 20): "The Ravens manage to pull out a rare road victory on a 50-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, in regulation this time. The Ravens defense does a solid job of generating a pass rush on McCown and shadowing Brandon Marshall, while the offense moves the football decently against a depleted Bears defense."
**ProFootballTalk.com**: 1 of 2 pick the Ravens
Michael David Smith (Bears 27, Ravens 17.): "The Bears' playoff hopes took a huge hit with last week's loss to the Lions, while the Ravens' playoff hopes stayed alive with last week's win over the Bengals. This week things will go in the other direction. The way to beat the Bears is to run the football, and the Ravens are terrible at running the football. The Bears will take this one."
Mike Florio (Ravens 23, Bears 17.): "No more excuses for Joe Flacco. While his weapons are diminished, so is the Chicago defense. And the Bears have once again resorted to Josh McCown."
**Sports Illustrated, Don Banks**: (Bears 24, Ravens 16):
"The 5-4 Bears aren't losing anything by starting Josh McCown against the 4-5 Ravens. A healthy McCown beats a gimpy Jay Cutler by a considerable margin, based on what has transpired in the past three Chicago games. And if this game comes down to running backs, Matt Forte remains a weapon for the Bears, while Ray Rice has become virtually a non-factor for Baltimore. Neither of these teams look playoff bound in mid-November 2013, but the Bears will stay more alive in the NFC North than the Ravens will in the AFC North."
**CBSSports.com, Pete Prisco**: (Ravens 24, Bears 17):
"Neither of these two can afford a loss if they are to be in the playoff mix down the stretch. The Bears will start Josh McCown here for the injured Jay Cutler. He has played well, but when does he come back to reality? The Ravens are solid on defense. They have offensive limitations. But I think this is a spot where they show their championship colors here."
**NFL.com, Elliot Harrison**: (Bears 27, Ravens 20):
"Baltimore squeezed back into the AFC wild-card race with a clutch (?) win over Cincinnati on Sunday. Can the Ravens do it on the road? No. The front seven has to get pressure – and that figures to be a tough task against the Bears, for whom protecting the quarterback is no longer the huge issue it once was. Consider that Chicago quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown have been floored a combined 14 times this season, the third-lowest total in the NFL. Of course, Baltimore has the third-most sacks, so this really comes down to the threat of a run game or short passing game. The Bears couldn't run against the Lions on Sunday, but they do have two excellent short-game options in Matt Forte (44 receptions) and Martellus Bennett (40 receptions). Bear in mind, this game is in Chicago. The Ravens have lost four of their five road games this season."
**The Sporting News, Vinnie Iyer**: (Bears 27, Ravens 23):
"As Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher are now part of these team's defensive past, this is about offense. The Ravens have seen Joe Flacco struggle on the road, and Ray Rice struggle all season. The Bears don't seem to miss much with Josh McCown, and he has the better back, Matt Forte, and the deeper, more versatile receiving corps. It's another close game for both teams, as Baltimore sees faint playoff hopes fade."
**FoxSports.com, Peter Schrager**: (Ravens 23, Bears 20):
"Don't look now, but the Ravens could be primed for a nice second-half run. Sure, the offense is a nightmare. And yes, they were fortunate to win last week after almost giving it up on an inexplicable 51-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired. But, the defense looks about as good as it ever did last season. Elvis Dumervil's having arguably his best season as a pro and appears to be worth every penny. The bandwagon is completely empty at the moment, but with a Cutler-less Bears team up ahead on Sunday, the Jets in Baltimore next week, and then a Thanksgiving battle with the Steelers in Baltimore, we could be looking at a 7-5 Ravens team going into Week 14."
ESPN.com: 2 of 13 pick the Ravens
YahooSports.com: 0 of 2 pick the Ravens
USA Today: 4 of 7 pick the Ravens
CBSSports.com: 5 of 8 pick the Ravens
'Now Or Never' For Rice
Running back Ray Rice insists he is healthy (hip flexor), and believes that his breakout game is coming.
He won't get a better chance to prove that than this week against a leaky Chicago run defense, which is the second-worst in the NFL (129.4 rushing yards allowed per game).
"I do think it's pretty much now or never for Ray Rice, considering how porous the Bears' front seven has been without Henry Melton and Lance Briggs and the poor tackling of much-maligned safety Chris Conte," wrote the Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson.
In the Bears' last four games, they have given up 106 yards to the Giants' Brandon Jacobs, 95 yards to the Redskins' Alfred Morris, 150 yards to the Packers' Eddie Lacy and 105 yards to the Lions' Reggie Bush.
"I]f Rice can't produce against the Bears, it's fair to think he's not going to do so the [rest of the year," Hensley wrote.
Bears Confident In Backup QB McCown
Ravens fans shouldn't find too much comfort in the fact that the Bears lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to an ankle injury and he will miss this weekend's matchup.
Even though there was plenty of uproar in Chicago about Head Coach Marc Trestman playing Cutler last week in the first place, there is still a lot of faith in backup Josh McCown.
"I'd say there's a fair amount of confidence in backup Josh McCown," wrote ESPN's Michael C. Wright.
"Before being thrust into action on Oct. 20 at Washington when Cutler tore a muscle in his groin, McCown was already one of the favorites in the locker room. General manager Phil Emery has called McCown a 'glue guy,' and other players consider the 34-year-old quarterback a father figure."
While filling in for Cutler for three games this season, McCown threw for 538 yards, four touchdowns, no turnovers and a 103.1 passer rating.
Updates On Pitta, Juszczyk
The longer the Ravens can keep their playoff hopes alive, the more important the return of tight end Dennis Pitta becomes,* *as he could potentially provide the offense with a jolt.
Reports indicated Pitta would return mid-November to early December. It's now November 15, and Pitta has yet to practice.
"Everything we've heard is that the soonest Dennis Pitta would be back practicing would be later in the month and that's not set in stone," wrote Wilson. "Under that time table, he would potentially play in a game, barring a setback, two to three weeks later.
"Dennis' recovery and rehab have gone very well. John Harbaugh may have been a bit premature last week when he said Dennis was 'closer than ever,' but things are going well and he should have a solid shot at playing this season. I will be surprised at this point if he doesn't play at some point in December."
Meanwhile, one fan is wondering why the Ravens don't give rookie hybrid fullback Kyle Juszczyk more looks in the sputtering offense. Juszczyk was targeted with his first career pass in Miami, and Harbaugh indicated that he would like to get Juszczyk more involved in the offense.
Since that time, Juszczyk hasn't been found on the offensive side of the ball.
What's the deal?
"I think [Harbaugh] was just talking and didn't actually have a plan for it," Wilson wrote. "When a coach is asked about a player, he's not going to say the player isn't good or they don't want him to play. He's not only talking to the media in these press conference, it's also for the players' consumption.
"There's really no reason to utilize Kyle Juszczyk in a hybrid role since he doesn't get open that well and has trouble separating from defenders at this level. So, therefore I don't see it happening at this point."
Don't Expect Same Fanfare For Reed
When Ravens fans thought they were saying goodbye to Ed Reed in what was supposed to be his last game at M&T Bank Stadium in the Week 3 matchup against the Texans, they gave him a fitting farewell.
Hundreds of fans lined the stands next to the tunnel after the game, chanting "Reeeeeeed!" while he raised his fist and disappeared inside M&T Bank Stadium.
"It was one of the most memorable scenes I have witnessed in my time on the Ravens beat, the conclusion of a love affair between Reed and his adopted city of Baltimore," wrote The Sun's Matt Vensel.
But now that Reed has signed with the Jets, and is set to return next weekend, will he enjoy a similar welcome?
"Next Sunday, it will feel like déjà vu, though I'm not sure Reed will get the same reception," Vensel wrote. "Reed is still revered here, though it seems there is a small, vocal sector of the fan base that wants to see him fail, as if to validate the Ravens' decision to not re-sign him this offseason. … The fans gave him that perfect send-off last time. What can they do for an encore? I'm sure they will try their best, but bumping into him again will probably feel a little strange."
- Based on some inaccurate throws lately, some are wondering whether Joe Flacco is hurt. "I don't think Joe Flacco has any real injury per se other than general soreness. There's nothing wrong with him physically, but he has become understandably a bit gun-shy and anticipates getting hit plenty. The accuracy issue may stem from a lack of trust in his receivers and pass protection. Not to mention his play-action fakes not being respected due to a lack of a running game." [The Baltimore Sun]
- Any concern over one-third of the Ravens defensive starters not practicing yesterday?* *Chris Canty (knee) Haloti Ngata (knee), Daryl Smith (thigh) and Lardariu Webb (groin) were on the sideline. "All are expected to play in Sunday's critical game at the Chicago Bears. It wouldn't be surprising to see all of them practice Friday after taking it easy for most of the week," Hensley wrote. [ESPN]
- The Ravens secondary played its best game of the season last week against a dangerous Bengals passing attack. It will need to build off that performance because "the Ravens' defensive backs are preparing for what may be their most unique challenge this year [against the Bears]," wrote Zrebiec. [The Baltimore Sun]
- For the second time in four days, an NFL Network reporter has indicated that the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be headed for a split this offseason. Mike Florio wonders if the Steelers are planting the stories. [ProFootballTalk.com]
- @JasonLaCanfora: Just in case I wasn't clear enough about this a week ago, when this faux story first appeared, Ben Roethlisberger isn't going anywhere. … Big Ben costs PIT just $12.1M next season ($18.9M cap), would take $14M in dead cap to trade him. He is a bargain. Consider this ... Flacco costs $21M cash in '14, Ryan -$21.5M, Bradford - $14M, Romo -$13.5M, Eli-$15.7M. Ben-$12M.Steelers don't have to do anything with Ben. [Twitter]
- @RichCimini ESPN New York]: Ed Reed, No. 20 his entire career, is [wearing No. 22 -- for now. #Jets [Twitter]