Ravens Can Clinch Division Sunday
It's only Week 13, but the Ravens already have a chance to clinch the division with a win over Pittsburgh and a Cincinnati loss.
CBSSports.com's Joe Ferreira breaks down the scenarios:
If Baltimore takes care of business at home against the Steelers, the worst record they could finish with is 10-6, while the best record Pittsburgh could end with is 10-6. Baltimore would own the tiebreaker with a two-game season sweep.
If the Bengals lose in San Diego, the best they could finish is 10-6. To get those 10 wins, the Bengals would have to beat Baltimore in the season-finale, but the Ravens would still win the division record tiebreaker – Baltimore 4-2, Bengals 3-3. Ferreira explains there would be no three-way tie at 10-6 since Pittsburgh and Cincy face off in Week 16.
Regardless of what the Bengals do this weekend, the Ravens can still clinch a playoff spot with a win.
With a clear three-game stranglehold on the division, the playoff focus for the Ravens shifts to bigger and better things, wrote our own John Eisenberg. Now Baltimore can set its sights on one of the two seeds in the AFC, which would get them a first-round bye and home game in the second round.
"Let's face it, they could really use [those perks]," Eisenberg wrote. "They're currently situated one game ahead of both the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots in that race, so there's little room for error. It's funny, December isn't even here and the Ravens' fifth-straight trip to the playoffs, a sizable achievement, is already all but certain.
"But they can't rest."
Lewis Could Practice Thurs., Play vs. Denver
Only two more games without Ray Lewis? Is that really possible?
According to more than a half dozen Yahoo! Sports sources it is.
The legendary linebacker is expected to return this season from a torn triceps muscle, and could return as early as the Dec. 16 showdown against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, reported Michael Silver.
One source "close to Lewis" said he could practice as soon as this Thursday, which is the first day he's eligible to practice after being placed on the injured reserve designated to return list six weeks ago in mid-October.
"[T]he 37-year-old linebacker has been aggressively treating his triceps injury with a variation of the platelet-rich plasma therapy that helped injured Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward return from a knee sprain to play in the team's Super Bowl XLIII victory," wrote Silver.
Two things will affect the exact return date. The first, obviously, is how he responds to treatment. The second depends on how conservative Lewis and the Ravens want to be. Baltimore is 9-2 and in good position for a fifth-straight playoff berth. The Ravens don't need to rush Lewis.
"He might not be back until we really need him," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "Pittsburgh losing probably gives us more time."
"At the end of the day, you're gonna see Ray Lewis again. For the greatest player in Ravens history to be able to return from this injury and come on this championship run with us? When he was said to be down and out? Man, that's critical mass. When he comes through that tunnel, that's gonna be the earthquake and the tsunami."
General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh were coy about Lewis' return:
"We'll see in another couple of weeks," Newsome told Silver Sunday. "Stay tuned."
"I would say it's possible," Harbs added. "We can't put Ray out there until he's ready to win those battles. But if it can be done, yes, we want to do it."
Numbers Behind Improbable Comeback
The scenario: down by three points with one minute, fifty-nine seconds remaining on fourth-and-29. The chances of the Ravens beating the Chargers were slim.
To be more exact, Baltimore's win probability was 23.2 percent at that point, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Rice's improbable 30-yard catch and run more than doubled the Ravens' chances of winning to 47.0 percent.
What should we call the miracle in San Diego?
You can't go wrong with Rice's own suggestion: "Hey Diddle Diddle, Rice up the middle."
Rivers In Denial
Count Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers as one who doesn't think Rice got the first down on the big play.
"He did not get the first down. They just did not have a view to overturn it. He did not get it," he said. "You can't help it. When you don't have a view to overturn it, you cannot overturn it.
"I do not think anyone thinks he got it. I do not think anyone in the stadium thinks he got it. I do not think Ray Rice thinks he got it. I do not think anyone on their team thinks he got it. But he got it. They just did not have a camera view to overturn it. That's what the referee said. He felt bad that they could not because he did not have a view. He knew his knee was down on the 35-yard line."
While plenty of analysts agree with Rivers, including Banks and CBSSports.com's Clark Judge, not *everyone *agrees with him as he claims.
Mike Pereira, former NFL Vice President of Officiating, says he believes the refs probably got it right after re-spotting the ball and sticks after looking at replays. Eisenberg also said the "crew methodically worked to get the call right."
Boldin's Key Block Gives Weddle Concussion
Rice may have never converted the first down if it weren't for a key, hard-hitting block from receiver Anquan Boldin on Chargers safety Eric Weddle.
According to The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, Weddle sustained a concussion on the play.
"The best block of the afternoon wasn't by an offensive lineman," wrote Judge. "It was by [Boldin on Weddle], a shot that helped spring Rice to that improbable fourth-down conversion."
Pollard: They Better Not Fine Me
Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was flagged for a personal foul in the fourth quarter when he hit receiver Danario Alexander near the sideline. The referees said he led with his helmet on a defenseless receiver.
The pass went incomplete, but the 15-yard penalty helped propel the Chargers to an eventual 30-yard field goal.
Replays show Pollard led with his shoulder, and the hard-hitting safety is frustrated by the call.
"Yeah, that's correct," Pollard told The Baltimore Sun about leading with his shoulder. "It all goes back to the rules of the game. It's not fair. They got three points out of that. It could have cost us. They better not fine me. That was a clean hit. That was football.
"It was a bang-bang situation. If they fine me, I'll appeal it. We are taught to defend something. If they fine me, which I highly doubt they will because it was clean and they're watching, we'll see what happens."
With Backs Against Wall, Don't Be Surprised To See Ben
That's how many turnovers the Steelers committed in a glorious 20-14 losing effort against the Cleveland Browns yesterday.
Simply put, Pittsburgh is in trouble without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Not even the league's best defense and a sound running attack are keeping the team afloat. Forget about winning the division. Pittsburgh is now fighting for a wild-card spot as the Bengals are coming alive and are tied with the Steelers at 6-5.
With their season dangling by a thread, the Steelers may think Roethlisberger needs to make an appearance at M&T Bank.
"I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest the slumping Steelers may be playing to keep their playoff chances alive next week at Baltimore," wrote SI.com's Don Banks. "That's why you can expect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to do everything in his power to make his return from a rib injury and play against the Ravens."
Medically speaking, there's a good shot Roethlisberger could be ready.
Doctors determined his rib has healed enough that it won't risk further damage, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. He will begin "soft-tossing the football" this week to test his range of motion and ability to work through any pain.
- @ravens: Victorious team flight back across the country! #ravens #ravensnation #winning [Instagram]
- "Torrey Smith did most of his damage on short passes, catching a career-high six passes for 113 yards on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield. Smith had a career-high 82 yards after the catch, with 79 coming on those short passes. Smith entered the day with 42.9 percent of his targets coming on short throws, while seven of his 13 targets [yesterday] came on short throws (53.8 percent)." [ESPN Stats and Information]
- Pointless to obsess: "It's games like this that make you wonder whether it's pointless to constantly analyze all the Ravens' flaws and obsess over their road struggles," wrote Jeff Zrebiec. "The Ravens' best quality is that they find ways to win, and nowhere was that more evident than today, a game they had no business winning." [The Baltimore Sun]
- Flacco finally breaks out: "That [Rice] play overshadowed a silver lining for the Ravens: Joe Flacco delivered on the road in a major way for the first time this season," wrote J. Michael. "Flacco had his best game away from M&T Bank Stadium, bringing back the Ravens from 10 points down to win 16-13 in overtime at the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Flacco went 30-for-51 for 355 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions." [CSNBaltimore.com]
- Art Jones got his first two career sacks yesterday. His brother, Patriots linebacker Chandler Jones, was ecstatic … @chan95jones: Arthur jones with the sack!!!!! My oldest brother!!! Ahhhh!!! … I'm the happiest little brother ever!!!! [Twitter]
- @torreysmithwr: I LOVE THIS TEAM!!!!!! [Twitter]
- @ravensinsider: No ligament damage believed for tight end Ed Dickson, but more testing to be conducted. Ellerbe hurt his foot, he hopes to play next week [Twitter]
- @pmgleason: #Ravens [have not allowed a red zone TD in 4-straight games](http://twitter.com/PMGleason/status/272881696226025472 /), keeping opponents out of the end zone on 10-consecutive RZ drives [Twitter]