Opinions Vary on Baltimore's Playoff Odds
After defeating the Oakland Raiders, 34-17, this past Sunday, the Ravens held onto the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race. If the season were to end right now, Baltimore would be in the postseason and venturing to Houston to play the Texans.
Still, opinions are varied on if the Ravens will make the postseason. The race is so muddled right now with seven teams within a game and a half of each other, and they're all fighting for one playoff spot. It became a little clearer this weekend as the five teams tied at 5-5 has been whittled down to two teams at 6-5 after the Titans' loss last night.
The Ravens have the same record as the Indianapolis Colts, but hold the playoff spot due to having a better conference record.
ESPN's FPI system is throwing its support behind the Ravens, giving them the best chance to claim the final postseason spot at 43 percent. For ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the reemergence of the team's running game has come at a very opportune time.
"The Ravens are also entering a two-game stretch in which running the football well could be extremely valuable, given that they're about to face the high-powered offenses of the Falcons and Chiefs," Barnwell wrote. "In both cases, the best game plan might be to focus on the run and keep [Falcons quarterback] Matt Ryan and [Chiefs quarterback] Patrick Mahomes off the field."
Still, as optimistic as ESPN's system is about the team's chances, few are as positive as Bleacher Report’s Elizabeth Finny, who went as far as to write that "Baltimore finds itself in a better playoff position than the [Los Angeles] Chargers with the regular season winding down."
That's a pretty bold statement considering the Chargers are 8-3, while the Ravens are 6-5. To most analysts, the Chargers are close to a sure thing to lock up the No. 5 seed or even the AFC West crown (they're one game behind the Chiefs).
Finny isn't buying that though, and with a tough schedule including trips to Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Denver for the Chargers ahead, she thinks Baltimore has an easier path to the postseason. It also doesn't help that Chargers star running back Melvin Gordon got injured this past Sunday (MCL).
Don't forget that if the Ravens beat the Falcons, combined with a Chargers' loss to Pittsburgh, Baltimore will be just one game behind Los Angeles, and the two meet in Week 16. The Ravens could be in position to earn a useful head-to-head edge.
"The Ravens will be playing three teams that have been knocked out of the playoffs, which guarantees them fairly easy wins or no head-to-head tiebreakers if they lose," Finny wrote.
As much as I like Finny's optimism, the Ravens learned in last season's finale that there are no easy wins in the NFL, even if your opponent is eliminated from postseason contention. The Ravens will also surely have to find a way to win on the road, and there's no better time to start than this Sunday in Atlanta.
Make no mistake about it, the Ravens have a challenging five games left to play, and it's for that reason that there are others that aren't as optimistic about the team's odds.
The Ringer’s Robert Mays ranked the wild-card contenders in both conferences by tiers, with the Los Angeles Chargers being given the best odds to make the postseason in Tier One. With Tier Seven being the lowest, the Ravens fell right in the middle in the fourth tier. The Ravens were joined by the NFC's Carolina Panthers, as both teams had strong starts before suffering three-game losing streaks.
However, Mays believes the Ravens have an X-factor that could shift the tides in their favor: rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"Baltimore may not have as high a ceiling as the best teams in the AFC, but Jackson's skill set can throw a wrench into any potential postseason matchup," Mays wrote. "As the less talented team in any playoff scenario, the Ravens will likely have to lean on high-variance strategies that can give them a subtle edge, and that's exactly what Jackson's running ability provides."
Mays clearly believes the Ravens will name Jackson the team's starting quarterback. While the question of who will start will certainly be a big one, don't forget that the Ravens' two options right now are a very dynamic rookie, and a Super Bowl MVP. There are questions with much more dire answers.
The AFC's wild-card picture is wide open, meaning there'll be plenty of must-see football during the next few weeks. More importantly, the Ravens are right in the thick of all the action, which is something WJZ's Mark Viviano hopes fans enjoy.
Can Ravens Win and Develop Lamar Jackson? Looks Like a Yes
Baltimore's quarterback situation has been the focus of many pundits since Sunday's victory. Who will the Ravens start: Jackson, or Flacco?
ESPN considered the scenario of Jackson remaining the team's starter, and wondered if the Ravens could help develop the rookie while also playing to win.
"Can Baltimore develop Jackson and remain a playoff contender?" ESPN asked. "The schedule suggests a perfect storm for the rookie first-round pick and a team seeking to end a three-year postseason drought."
From there, ESPN listed out Baltimore's future opponents, and liked Jackson's chances of being successful. Atlanta is the No. 28 defense in the league "after being decimated by injuries," while Kansas City ranks No. 30. Tampa Bay comes to Baltimore after those two games, and has yet to hold an opponent to under 34 points on the road.
The Cleveland Browns, who the Ravens finish the season with, are averaging the fifth-most rushing yards allowed per game (131.8). The Chargers are the outlier, and will surely provide a different sort of test if Jackson were to remain the starter.
It's a unique situation that ESPN believes is, "Unlike any other team in the NFL. Baltimore is in must-win mode while trying to groom a potential franchise quarterback." Still, ESPN believes it's possible for the Ravens to do both.
"The next mark for Jackson is to become the first Ravens rookie quarterback to win his first three starts," ESPN wrote. "That would significantly increase Baltimore's playoff odds and likely continue his run as the team's starting quarterback of the present."
Lamar Jackson Means More Playing Time for the Big Guys
With Jackson under center, Baltimore's offense has changed drastically over the past two games. This is not limited to personnel usage, as certain players seem to be better suited to play in Baltimore's run-heavy approach with Jackson on the field.
Running back Gus Edwards with his direct north-south running approach is an obvious example of a player who has gotten more of an opportunity with Jackson's dynamic playmaking ability being on the field more. Besides Edwards, there are two players who have really benefited from having Jackson start, according to PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz: tight end Nick Boyle and fullback Patrick Ricard.
"An emphasis on the running game has pushed the team's best blockers onto the field more often," Kasinitz wrote.
With Flacco under center, Boyle had seen his snaps decrease from Week 6 to Week 9, but they've shot up since Jackson started. Boyle was on the field for an astonishing 72.9 percent of plays against the Raiders, which is more than the other two active tight ends (rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews) with a combined (52.8 percent).
"The Ravens stuck with what worked from Jackson's first start, using Edwards as their featured runner and leaning on Boyle, who's their best blocking tight end," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "Hurst and Andrews produced as receivers despite modest workloads."
Ricard, meanwhile, has played a season-high 16 snaps in each of Jackson's starts.
Mark Andrews Defends Baker Mayfield
Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd has been critical of Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for some time, dating back to Mayfield's college days at Oklahoma.
The brash rookie was once again in Cowherd's crosshairs yesterday after Mayfield criticized former Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson for joining the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff so quickly after leaving Cleveland.
"There's no reason Baker Mayfield even needs to go there," Cowherd said. "He's having a good month, getting himself on track. Just stop."
Andrews, who played at Oklahoma with Mayfield, took exception to Cowherd's criticisms, and went to Twitter to defend his former teammate.
"Is anyone else tired of hearing this crap from this guy? Just give it up man," Andrews wrote. "Baker is the best teammate, and person I have ever been around. His enthusiasm, passion, fire, and character makes him the most electric player on the field week in and week out end of story."
It might seem a little odd for Ravens fans to see a member of the team be so outspoken in his support of the quarterback of a division rival, but this isn't the first time Andrews has gone public with his praise of Mayfield. Andrews even referred to Mayfield as his best friend in the lead-up to the Ravens facing the Browns in Week 5.
And don't worry Ravens Flock, safety Eric Weddle made sure that Andrews would come to the defense of his current teammates with the same passion as he did for Mayfield.
- The Ravens were given an A- from CBS Sports’ John Breech for their performance this Sunday. Breech referred to the game as "a track meet for Baltimore," citing the long touchdown scores by Suggs and punt returner Cyrus Jones. "This was an impressive all-around win for a Ravens team that seems to be peaking at the right time."
- Judon and Jones were both selected to the Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week. PFF's Gordon McGuinness noted that Judon managed to make a major impact despite having just 23 pass rushing attempts, while Jones' return for a touchdown was at a critical moment of Sunday's game. "The Ravens were enduring a sluggish start to the game when Jones helped them on their way with a fantastic punt return that saw him tightrope down the sideline before bursting towards the end zone," McGuinness wrote.
- Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick believes defensive tackle Michael Pierce could become a key figure in Baltimore's pass rush, despite only having three career sacks and none this season. "He can either provide an effective bull rush or command a double team inside," McKusick wrote. "If the Ravens scheme to play off these characteristics with stunts, delayed blitzes, or simply by maximizing the other 1-on-1 matchups created, I think they'll get more pressure."