Buy Or Sell? Ravens Will Win Out And Make Playoffs
There's no sugarcoating it.
The odds say you should bet against Baltimore winning its final three games of the season to ensure a playoff spot.
There's no single road to the postseason, but the Ravens know the only way to guarantee advancement is if they beat the Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) on Christmas day and Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) in the regular-season finale.
"How difficult is the road ahead?" asked ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The Ravens have a better chance to lose out (18.6 percent) than win all the remaining games (6.1 percent)."
OK, let's take going undefeated out of the equation. The Ravens don't have to run the table to advance because they could also clinch the final wild-card position by finishing 9-7.
What are the Ravens' overall chances of making the playoffs? Still not great.
Both ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) and Football Outsiders have the Ravens' chances below 35 percent. In the table to the right, FPI only gives Baltimore a 15 percent chance to win the division.
Meanwhile, Football Outsiders say the Steelers have 75.4 percent odds to make the playoffs compared to Baltimore's 33 percent.
"The Ravens have gotten the Patriots off the schedule now, and they still have a much tougher remaining slate than Pittsburgh," wrote Football Outsider's Aaron Schatz. "Both teams go to Cincinnati, but the Ravens' remaining home game against Philadelphia is a lot tougher than Pittsburgh's remaining home game against Cleveland.
"Add that to the one-game lead Pittsburgh now has, and Baltimore's odds of making the playoffs took a big hit [Monday] night. Even in simulations where Baltimore wins in Pittsburgh in two weeks, the Ravens only make the playoffs 65 percent of the time."
On top of it all, two of the Ravens' final three games are on the road, where they haven't shown a solid ability to win. Baltimore has only beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) and Cleveland Browns (0-14) away from M&T Bank Stadium.
Here's the thing, though …
The Ravens relish playing the underdog role, which is exactly what they are in now. The odds are against them, but they're far from out.
"This is the NFL, after all, where just about anything can happen on any given weekend," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck. "And these are the Ravens, who have a puncher's chance every time they take the field, even if they've been swinging at air for much of this season and all of the previous one.
"The Eagles are the next must-win on the Ravens' December dance card, but what else is new? They have been standing on a ledge all season, but it's important to recognize that they are still standing after all they have been through."
In the NFL Network video below, analysts Charley Casserly and Mike Garafolo were asked whether they are buying or selling the idea that Baltimore will punch a postseason ticket.
Stats be damned, both are buying the gritty Ravens.
Can A.J. Green And Bengals Help By Beating Steelers This Week?
One more note about the playoffs …
The Ravens are rightfully operating under the assumption that the Steelers will win both of their non-Baltimore matchups to end the season. But there is a chance that the potential return of wide receiver A.J. Green could help.
"The Cincinnati Bengals with a healthy A.J. Green would be that much more dangerous to the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff hopes," wrote ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "Cincinnati could take the field Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium with Green (hamstring), who averages 89.8 yards per game against Pittsburgh in the last four matchups."
Green returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since he was carted off the field with a Grade II hamstring tear against the Buffalo Bills in Week 11. He was a limited participant, but it's very possible he plays Sunday. The Bengals still aren't mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
Never has the potential return of Green looked so good to the Ravens.
Obviously, his comeback would also mean Baltimore would likely have to face him in Week 17, but that might not matter.
If the Ravens win their next two games, and the Steelers fall to the Bengals Sunday, Baltimore will have already clinched the division heading into the season finale, according to the CSNMidAtlantic.com video below.
Todd McShay Has Ravens Selecting Pass Rusher In First Mock Draft
Yes, it's still Week 15, but let the 2017 NFL mock drafts begin.
With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the wrong side of 30, ESPN's Todd McShay envisions the Ravens using their first-round pick on a young pass rusher.
The Ravens are currently projected to finish with the No. 15 pick, and McShay has the them selecting Missouri defensive end Charles Harris.
"A twitchy athlete off the edge, Harris led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and finished this season with 5.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries in his final four games," wrote McShay. "He has tons of raw ability as a pass rusher, and Baltimore needs to continue to add youth off the edge with Terrell Suggs turning 35 next season."
Harris has decided to forego his senior season after notching nine sacks in 2016, which didn't make his head coach very happy. Missouri's Barry Odom would love to have Harris back one more year to lead his defense, but knows the dangerous edge rusher is ready for the next level.
"In this year's draft, the Ravens did well to find a young pass rusher in the fifth round when they selected Matt Judon from Grand Valley State," adds Hensley. "He has exceeded expectations this season with four sacks. But the Ravens need to find an elite pass rusher."
Ravens Defense Is Different Without J. Smith
Head Coach John Harbaugh wasn't interested in revealing whether Ravens' top cornerback Jimmy Smith has a realistic chance of playing Sunday. No need to give that information to opponents.
But Smith did not practice yesterday after leaving Monday night's contest against the Patriots with an ankle injury.
Unless Smith makes an unexpected return to practice, the assumption is that Baltimore will need to move forward with Shareece Wright and rookie Tavon Young as the starters.
"The Ravens predictably downplayed the significance of Smith's potential absence, reiterating their 'next man up' philosophy and expressing confidence in their other cornerbacks," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
"Still, the secondary's body of work this season without Smith isn't good."
Zrebiec pointed out how different the Ravens defense is when Smith isn't in the lineup.
The New York Giants took advantage of his absence in Week 6 when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went off for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant notched two touchdowns with Smith sidelined on Nov. 20. And the Patriots' Tom Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns Monday.
"The Ravens' secondary has looked far more vulnerable without Smith on the field," Zrebiec wrote. "His absence also creates depth issues at the position, and could force the Ravens to use a traditional safety, such as Matt Elam or Anthony Levine Sr., in more of a nickelback role."
Flacco: 'No Doubt' Ravens Need To Run More
It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that the Ravens are on track to set the record for the least number of rushing attempts in franchise history.
Per ESPN, the Ravens are on pace to run the ball 370 times this season, which is 13 fewer than any other year. The lack of attempts was especially noticeable in New England when Baltimore only ran four times in the first half.
That's not enough, says quarterback Joe Flacco.
"There's no doubt we're going to have to run the ball, especially if teams are going to go out and play two high [safeties] against us like the Patriots did," he said. "We're going to have to be able to hand the ball off and get yardage out of it. Then, it's going to get our play-action game going a little bit more and make it that much better."
If the Ravens do recommit themselves to establishing the run, fantasy experts in the video below are now expecting Kenneth Dixon to be the starter.