What Will Broncos-Ravens Say About Playoffs?
We already know the Ravens can clinch a playoff berth and the division with a win over the Denver Broncos Sunday.
But what does this matchup mean as far as that coveted AFC No. 2 seed goes?
If the Ravens win, both they and the Broncos will have 10-4 records, but the head-to-head tiebreaker would go to Baltimore. Then, if John Harbaugh's brother, Jim, and the San Francisco 49ers can pull off an upset in New England Sunday, Baltimore would regain the second seed.
But if the Broncos win, they would "all but eliminate the Ravens from No. 2 seed contention," wrote The Denver Post's Mike Klis.
In other words, this is a must-win game for Baltimore if it wants a first-round bye. A win could also be a major boost to the Ravens' psyche after losing two straight and suddenly changing offensive coordinators. Beat Peyton Manning, and there's no reason to believe the Ravens can't go deep into the playoffs.
On the other hand, a victory doesn't seem to mean as much to the Broncos.
Not only would they still have the potential to regain the No. 2 seed, but a loss also wouldn't seem to have the same toll on their confidence as they head into the postseason.
"Playoff seeding aside, I'm not so sure a loss at Baltimore would be crippling," Klis wrote. "I also don't think a win or loss at Baltimore will have much to do with how well the Broncos would play in January against New England or Houston. I think the Broncos are strong enough to beat any team. … [L]osing at Baltimore would not be catastrophic."
Klis even sees a scenario where a loss to the Ravens could actually be beneficial for Denver. He says a loss would allow the Broncos to rest their starters in a Week 17 finale against the Kansas City Chiefs because it would be unlikely to get better than a No. 3 seed. And there's "not much advantage" between a three and four seed.
"It would also render their final game against the Chiefs as all but meaningless," he wrote. "Besides, the Broncos can beat the Chiefs with Brock Osweiler at quarterback."
Let's hope the Broncos locker room has the same attitude,* *because I can assure you the Ravens want this victory … badly.
But here's the thing: beating Manning and a team on an eight-game winning streak is tall task and very few people think the Ravens can do it …
Week 15 Picks: Broncos vs. Ravens
For the first time in more than two years (Nov. 11, 2009), the Ravens are a home underdog. Vegas favors the Broncos by 2 ½ points.
The odds of winning are stacked against Baltimore, but there are a few people out there who believe Baltimore can pull off the upset. They are in the minority, but they are out there.
Below is a roundup of game predictions:
The Baltimore Sun: 6 of 7 pick Broncos
Jeff Zrebiec (Broncos 27, Ravens 20): "Cam Cameron's dismissal will provide a temporary jolt to the Ravens' offense, but after the defense allowed Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins to lead game-winning drives, it's scary to think what Peyton Manning could do to it."
ESPN.com: 9 of 12 pick Broncos
Yahoo! Sports: 2 of 3 pick Broncos
SportingNews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Ravens 26, Broncos 24
"It seems like Peyton Manning and the Broncos are destined to keep winning all the way to the Super Bowl. But it would be wrong to write off the Ravens after tough losses to the Steelers and Redskins. They are still a very good home team, and with an emotional defensive lift from the return of Ray Lewis and a spark from a new-look offense, expect them to turn in a strong all-around performance. They will need it to cool off the Broncos, and it will be tough, given they must overcome many defensive injuries. With more help from Ray Rice, Joe Flacco will hold up well in his duel with Manning—and a big play by Ed Reed will allow the Ravens to steal this one."
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Broncos 34, Ravens 24
"Way back in Week 9, I wrote in this very column that the Broncos were going to finish the season by winning their final nine games. We're three wins away from being right on the money. The Ravens were exposed two weeks ago against Pittsburgh and again last Sunday vs. the Redskins. They don't have the defense they once did, the offense lacks firepower (with Cam Cameron or not) when it matters, and they still seem to struggle late in big December and January games. Peyton Manning is 8-2 against the Ravens. He won't lose on Sunday."
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Broncos 27, Ravens 20
"The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this week. What does that mean? Who knows? We know the Denver offense will roll with Peyton Manning. The Ravens aren't that good on defense. Manning has a big day."
SI.com (Peter King): Broncos 30, Ravens 20
"Having nothing to do with the change in offensive coordinators in Baltimore, but everything to do with the fact that the Broncos haven't lost since two weeks before the World Series started. The Ravens, to beat Peyton Manning, need their best player on the field Sunday to be Terrell Suggs, not Joe Flacco."
ProFootballTalk.com (Mike Florio): Broncos 28, Ravens 20
"The Ravens don't match up well against Peyton Manning. They never have. Throw in a flat-tire offense that the Ravens are trying to change while the car is moving, and the late-season slide continues."
ProFootballTalk.com (Michael David Smith): Broncos 24, Ravens 14
"Baltimore's decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron strikes me as a desperation move. The Ravens know they're not as good as the three elite teams in the AFC, and the Broncos are going to demonstrate that on Sunday in Baltimore."
Manning vs. … Bynes???
Imagine the headlines if we knew Ray Lewis were playing Sunday.
Two legendary champions and future Hall of Famers go head-to-head in another fierce competition and battle of the wits. Manning approaches the line to survey the Ravens defense and call his audibles, while Lewis gets his men in place to counter.
But that chess match may have to be played by second-year linebacker Josh Bynes.
If Lewis can't go, Bynes could be the one wearing the headset to communicate calls from coaches to his teammates. After Jameel McClain went down during the Redskins game, it was Bynes who took over.
"The Ravens have been used to two veteran linebackers communicating the calls, so it could be a challenge for the young Bynes against one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason Butt.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees told reporters yesterday that nothing is certain as to who will wear the headset, noting that it will come down to who is at inside linebacker, "which hints there's a chance Lewis or linebacker Dannell Ellerbe could be available Sunday," Butt said.
For Bynes, he's preparing as if he'll be the man in charge and he understands he has to have a phenomenal performance against Manning in order to give his team a chance to win.
"It's Peyton Manning, you want to do some things different," Bynes told Butt. "You want to go out there and play your ultimate game, he's one of the smartest and best quarterbacks to play this game. You have to be at your very best when you play him."
What We Know About Lewis, Ellerbe's Status
So, will it be Bynes at inside linebacker or is there a chance that Lewis or Ellerbe could return?
Here's what we know.
Ellerbe returned to his first practice yesterday, in a limited capacity, since suffering an ankle injury in Week 12.
Meanwhile, Lewis was seen at practice during the 30 minutes open to media, but not much else is known since Lewis doesn't have to be on the injury report while on the injured reserve-designated to return list.
Sunday marks the first game that Lewis is eligible to play since being placed on the return list after suffering a triceps injury in Week 6.
But at least one expert thinks Sunday might be too soon.
If Lewis does return, it would be about two months sooner than normal and David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon at Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston, says that would be fast even for Lewis.
"We all know Ray Lewis works really hard, but that really has almost nothing to do with when you get back to football. All of these surgeries, but especially surgeries where you re-attach a structure … the body has to heal that tendon in that position," Geier told CSNBaltimore.com. "If you do too much before the body has healed around the repair then the repair fails and you're back at square one."
Lewis has reportedly used platelet-rich plasma therapy and a hyperbaric chamber in his rehab, but Geier said those procedures aren't proven to accelerate healing.
"[A]t the end of the day how hard Ray Lewis works on it has nothing to do with how quickly that repair heals," Geier said.
"The other side of the argument is he's late in his career. His goal may be to win a Super Bowl and if he never plays again, so what. The risk may not be as big of a deal to him as it would be to a guy 22 or 23 years old. Your priorities may change."
Ngata Says He Hasn't Been Fined
As of Thursday afternoon, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had not been fined for a roughing the passer penalty he received against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III last Sunday, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Players are usually notified of fines on the Thursday following a game infraction.
"They haven't sent me anything [a fine]," Ngata told Aaron Wilson. "I thought it was clean. So, we'll see."
Referees announced that Ngata hit RGIII with the crown of his helmet, but replays show that Ngata shoved the quarterback with two hands hard enough to cause RGIII's helmet to come off.
- Joe Flacco acknowledges that he has to stop fumbling. Flacco has fumbled five times* *in the last four games. [The Baltimore Sun]
- AFC North rivals Cincinnati Bengals kept their playoff hopes alive in an ugly win, 34-13, over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles seemingly were in the season of giving, coughing up five turnovers. [SI.com]
- Despite getting flak from fellow Steelers fans, Pittsburgh native Cody Yocca, has no regrets in giving a terrible towel to Ravens running back Ray Rice. "As expected, I got some hatred towards the fact I did that," Yocca said. "They called me a jagoff and a traitor and told me I shouldn't be a part of Steelers Nation. It didn't bother me too much." [The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]
- With Marshal Yanda injured, veteran guard Bobbie Williams may get his second chance to start. [CBSSports.com]
- @ravens: Matt Birk is one of the 10 nominees for the 2013 Bart Starr Award, honoring one NFL player for character and leadership on & off the field. [Twitter]