After Getting Little Help Sunday, Ravens Must Beat Texans to Keep Playoff Spot
The pressure is on to beat the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football.
The Ravens got little help from wild-card contenders Sunday, and lost the inside track on the final AFC playoff spot. It will only be a temporary loss, however, if they take care of business at home tonight as 7.5-point favorites over Houston.
"[T]he AFC has two seven-win teams, two six-win teams, four five-win teams and three four-win teams," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "It's a mass of mediocrity and the Ravens need to keep pace with a win tonight."
Here's a rundown of the Sunday games that affected Baltimore's playoff position:
Buffalo Bills 16, Kansas City Chiefs 10In a game of tug of war, the Bills (6-5) have taken back the final wild-card spot after the Ravens claimed it last week. Baltimore can leapfrog Buffalo once again with a win against the Texans tonight, however. (Baltimore would win the tiebreaker with more conference wins.) After a* *surprisingly premature benching of former Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor last week, the Bills went back to him and he was effective enough (19 of 29 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions) to deliver a huge win that keeps Buffalo in playoff contention. The Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) still lead the AFC West, but have lost five of their last six games.
"The Kansas City Chiefs might not make the playoffs," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. "No one would have conceived of it after starting 5-0, but that is their reality as the season heads into its final full month. And the Buffalo Bills, written off by many in a recent funk and after watching rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman throw away the game last week, literally, with five first-half interceptions, are very much alive in the AFC wild-card race. That's how it goes in the NFL."
Tennessee Titans 20, Indianapolis Colts 16The Titans (7-4) have taken the AFC South division lead by eking out a win over the lowly, Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts (3-8). Tennessee looked primed to drop the contest until the Colts fumbled inside their own 5-yard line in the third quarter and the Titans scored a play later to cut the Colts' lead. "[I] remain utterly unimpressed with the Titans, but I have to give them credit for finding ways to beat bad teams," wrote La Canfora. "That alone can get you to the playoffs in the AFC this season."
Arizona Cardinals 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 24The Jaguars (7-4) now own the fifth seed in the AFC playoff race after losing their top spot in the division. Whether Jacksonville or Tennessee wins the division, both have an advantage over the Ravens for a wild-card spot because each has head-to-head wins over Baltimore. "Can the Jaguars embark on a deep playoff run with a quarterback they don't trust?" asked NFL.com's Chris Wesseling.
Oakland Raiders 21, Denver Broncos 14Oakland (5-6) is trying to keep pace in the playoff race and its win Sunday certainly helped, as the Raiders are currently just a half-game behind the Ravens. "If Oakland is to make a run at the postseason or the AFC West – the Raiders and Chargers are now within one game of Kansas City – the Raiders will need more gutty performances like this one," wrote NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman. "Matchups with the lifeless [New York] Giants and the struggling Chiefs loom."
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Green Bay Packers 28It's almost as if the Steelers (9-2) like to tease Ravens fans by making them think early stumbles will lead to unexpected losses. Nope. Against a team the Ravens shut out last week, Pittsburgh needed a last-second Chris Boswell 53-yard field goal to seal the win. The Steelers have squeezed out 5-, 3- and 3-point victories this season over the Detroit Lions, Colts and Packers. "The Steelers' inability to put away mortal teams is bothersome," wrote Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Pittsburgh allowed Brett Hundley to notch 245 yards and three touchdown passes.
Cincinnati Bengals 30, Cleveland Browns 16The annoying Bengals (5-6) won't go away. They are a half-game behind the Ravens after an 0-3 start, and may have found some new legs to ride to more victories with rookie running back Joe Mixon, who rumbled for 114 yards and a touchdown Sunday. "If the Bengals are postseason material, what does that tell us about the wanting AFC?" asked NFL.com's Around the League staff.
Ravens Should Have All Their Key Pieces Against Texans
As the Ravens look to keep an inside track on their playoff position, they'll do it with all their key starters against the Texans.
Saturday's injury report listed outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (ankle), cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) and right tackle Austin Howard (knee) as questionable, but all are expected to play.
Five Predictions for Ravens-Texans
WNST's Luke Jones put together five predictions for tonight's game on the national stage:
1. Joe Flacco will eclipse 235 passing yards for just the second time this season.
"Houston has the NFL's 26th-ranked pass defense, but this prediction is more about the Texans ranking seventh in run defense and allowing just 3.7 yards per carry."
2. Jeremy Maclin will find the end zone for the third time at home this season.
"Veteran Kareem Jackson has been the weak link in the Texans secondary and will line up as the slot cornerback in sub packages, which should bode well for Baltimore's best receiver."
3. Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins will catch a touchdown in a mostly-quiet night. *"Houston *quarterback Tom Savage has targeted Hopkins a whopping 39 times over the last three games, which equals Mike Wallace's targets for the season."
4. Tony Jefferson will return a takeaway for a touchdown.
"I've predicted a Jefferson interception three other times this season, so I naturally decided to quadruple down on that as a guest on Ravens Unscripted this week."
5. The Ravens defense will mostly dominate and the offense will mostly stay out of the way in a 20-10 win over Houston.
"Expecting another shutout from Baltimore would be unfair, but this Texans offense hasn't been the same since Watson's injury and won't find very much success against a defense-strong team playing its first Monday night home game in over five years."
Ryan Mallett Fined for Verbally Abusing Official
Head Coach John Harbaugh wasn't happy about backup quarterback Ryan Mallett yelling at officials from the sideline in Baltimore's win over the Packers. The unsportsmanlike penalty during a punt cost his team 15 yards.
The NFL didn't like it either, and showed its displeasure with a hefty fine. It will cost Mallett $12,154, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Mallett was protesting the play prior to the punt when referees picked up a flag after a low hit toward quarterback Joe Flacco's legs.
"As much as I love Ryan Mallett, I'm not cool with that, and he knows it," Harbaugh said last Monday, adding he'd have his own internal discipline for Mallett.
"I guess I understood how he felt — 'he' being the perpetrator of that foul. I shared some of my own sentiments. I just verbalized it in a different way," Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "The good news is that Ryan Mallett now has his first graded rep on special teams of his career. It is a minus."
Marc Trestman Named CFL Coach of Year, Wins Grey Cup
Good for you, Marc Trestman.
Thirteen months after being fired as the Ravens offensive coordinator, Trestman was named the Canadian Football League's Coach of the Year and led his Toronto Argonauts team to a Grey Cup victory Sunday.
"[He got the award] after doing what every coach hopes to do when they come to a struggling team – turn them into a winning group that goes to a championship game," the CFL.CA website wrote.
With Trestman leading the charge, the Argonauts improved their record by four wins and moved up three spots in the standings on their way to winning the championship.
"The fact of the matter is, you realize that you can't do things alone," said Trestman. "You've seen that a lot with players and people that win awards: they thank a lot of people and what happens is, when you win that award, it all of a sudden crystalizes, you realize that it's not about you. It took so many people, so many moments in your life to be able to get you to this time and place."