Three Teams Can Still Win AFC North
The Ravens backed into a playoff spot last night with a little help from the Dallas Cowboys, who beat the Pittsburgh Steelersin a 27-24 overtime win.
With a postseason spot locked up, the next goal is to win the AFC North. The reality is the division is wiiiide open, and Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all have a chance to walk away as the division champs.
But just as they did with a playoff berth, the Ravens could back into clinching the AFC North.
The NFL has yet to release its official scenarios, but here are few to chew on in the meantime:
Baltimore clinches AFC North with … a win over the New York Giants Sunday or a tie plus a Cincinnati loss or tie.This scenario would render the Ravens-Bengals season finale pointless for the Ravens as far as the division race is concerned. But a loss against the Giants, and the Ravens may have to win the season finale to win the North and a home* *playoff game in the first round.
Cincinnati clinches AFC North with … two wins and two Ravens losses.
Under this scenario, the Bengals would win the division with a 10-6 record, compared to 9-7 for the Ravens, and at best, an 8-8 record for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with … two wins and two Ravens losses.
Under this scenario, all three teams would be 9-7. But the Steelers would win the tiebreaker over Cincinnati and Baltimore based on head-to-head win percentage (sweeping Bengals, while Ravens split with Steelers and Bengals). See division tiebreaking scenarios in a DIVISION between THREE teams.
Ravens can back into the division title even with two more losses… a Steelers Week 16 win over Bengals and a Steelers loss to Cleveland in Week 17.
Under this scenario the Steelers would finish (8-8), while the Ravens and Bengals would both finish 9-7. Baltimore would win the tiebreaker over Cincinnati on best win percentage in division games. See division tiebreaking scenarios in a DIVISION between TWO teams.
Any chance Ravens can regain No. 2 seed? … The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec puts this one bluntly, saying any hope for that is "pretty much gone." Ray Frager of CSNBaltimore.com, agrees saying the Ravens will be playing the first weekend of the playoffs even if they win out.
If the season ended today … the Ravens (No. 4 seed) would host the Indianapolis Colts (No. 5 seed) in the wild-card round.
Can Ravens Win Another Game?
There is a scenario where the Ravens can still win the division without notching another victory, which some doubt Baltimore can do at all.
"If the Baltimore Ravens thought changing offensive coordinators would shake them out of a late-season funk, I've got news: It won't," wrote CBSSports.com's Clarke Judge. "In fact, the Ravens were so bad in Jim Caldwell's debut as a play-caller that you have to wonder the once unimaginable – namely, do these guys win again?
While the Ravens are a "great pretender," the good news is their next opponent, the New York Giants, are too, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
The Giants got slammed by the Atlanta Falcons yesterday in a 34-0 shutout, and the defending Super Bowl champs are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
As such, Frager believes the Giants (8-6) will be the more desperate team come Sunday.
"[T]hough the Ravens might be feeling desperate for a win after losing three in a row, the Giants clearly are in more desperate straits.
"So whom do the Ravens get next week? A talented, veteran team embarrassed by its up-and-down performances and not at all certain about its playoff prospects. Not exactly the best matchup for a reeling Ravens team."
What They're Saying About Caldwell's Debut
Analysts seem to agree: Jim Caldwell's debut as the Ravens offensive coordinator was a disaster.
But a few, mostly local analysts, say it's too early to conclude whether it was the right move to dismiss Cam Cameron.
Don Banks (SI.com): "[N]othing about last week's firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the elevation of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell to the post did anything to fix the team's offensive issues. In the ultra-successful five-year John Harbaugh coaching era, this is as low as we've ever seen the Ravens plunge."
Will Brinson [CBSSports.com]: "If you're going to fire your offensive coordinator when your team is 9-4, you should probably make sure whoever's taking over doesn't plan on doing the exact same things the guy you fired did. Because as far as I can tell, Jim Caldwell's not that big an improvement over Cam Cameron. … The dismissal of Cameron will probably work out in the long haul, but it's highly questionable whether the short-term upgrade will end up being an upgrade at all."
John Clayton [ESPN]: "As an overreaction, the organization fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and gave quarterback coach Jim Cardwell the chance to call offensive plays for the first time in the NFL. In Sunday's loss to Denver, the Ravens looked like an offense with a rookie play caller."
Kevin Cowherd [The Baltimore Sun]: "It's way too early to put too much blame on Caldwell, seeing how inconsistent the offense has been for weeks. And I didn't hear anyone in the crowd calling for the return of Cam Cameron, who must have been laughing himself silly as he watched this one on the couch at home. But nothing Caldwell called early in the game — well, when it was still a game, anyway — seemed to work."
Aaron Wilson [The Sun]: "This was a complete regression offensively. Obviously, the problems run much deeper than Cameron's unwillingness to accept input and suggestions from fellow coaches and his icy relationship with quarterback Joe Flacco. It's hard to pin this one on Caldwell considering it was his first game calling plays in the NFL and the execution from the players was so bad, as they were overmatched against a talented Broncos defense."
What's The Hurry? Call A Timeout On Pick Six
The game-changing play of the Ravens' loss to the Broncos came with 32 seconds remaining in the half.
In position at the 4-yard line to cut the Broncos' 10-0 lead to three, the Ravens raced to the line of scrimmage and quarterback Joe Flacco quickly took a snap. He seemed to be locked in on receiver Anquan Boldin, but his pass was cut off by cornerback Chris Harris, who stepped*in to make the interception and return it 98 *yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens never recovered, and people are asking: Why the hurry?
Baltimore had three timeouts left and a first down – plenty of chances to take a shot at the end zone.
"Game, set and question, please: What in the world were the Ravens ... er, Flacco ... er, Caldwell ... doing?" asked Judge.
"They had all three of their timeouts. They could have run once. They could have run twice. Time was not an issue. But, no, they race to the line of scrimmage, then throw a 2-yard pass where it's danger, danger, danger. Flacco later admitted he might've been late with a pass he believed was safe because Boldin could've stepped out of bounds to kill the clock, but let me repeat: THE CLOCK WAS NOT AN ISSUE."
After the game, both Flacco and Head Coach John Harbaugh took responsibility for the play. Flacco said he made a mistake by throwing the ball, and Harbaugh said it was his call to hurry to the line.
"That's my call, Harbaugh said. "We run that a lot. We've done that a lot this year. We've done it over the last few years. There's a number of play calls that we have in that situation. Joe is trying to stick it in there for a touchdown. The kid (Harris) made a great play. That's what happens."
Moreno Hurdles Reed (Animated GIF)
One of the most memorable plays of Sunday's loss was when Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno hurdled an almost upright Ed Reed.
It was an athletically sick play (which can be seen over and over in the animated GIF below) but Reed said he couldn't react because he was dealing with the flu.
"I was not expecting him to jump, honestly," Reed said. "I couldn't react because I was just dealing with a lot of sickness early in the game. I just wasn't all the way into it, honestly.
"I was dealing with flu symptoms and everything. I just kind of watched him jump over me. I wasn't expecting that at all."
- "I can't help but wonder if that [pick six] blunder also really hurt Flacco's chances to be re-signed to a mega-deal with Baltimore in 2013, as most presume he will be, or even has to be?" asked Banks. [SI.com]
- "Let there be no doubt now. The Ravens are officially in trouble," wrote Zrebiec. [The Sun]
- The Ravens forgo a two-point conversion and "any chance of a comeback." Why? [CBSSports.com]
- Boos aside, Flacco said the Ravens are trying to make fans proud. [The Sun]
- Running back Ray Rice touches weren't all that different in Caldwell's first game calling plays: "Rice had 15 touches for 41 yards on Sunday, his first game under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Rice posted season lows with 41 yards from scrimmage and a 2.7 yards per touch average. Rice was targeted on 18 plays (12 rushes, three receptions on five targets), none of which came on third down. Sunday marks the fourth time this season Rice did not touch the ball on third down." [ESPN Stats and Information]
- @rayrice27: People had the nerve to tweet me about fantasy football when the people and families of Newtown CT are the ones who need us all Right Now [Twitter]
- @rayrice27: you need help for real RT @AsapAbdi: @RayRice27 you aren't paid millions to mourn [Twitter]
- @pmgleason: Dennis Pitta has 7 TD catches this year, which ties Todd Heap (2005) for the most in a season by a Ravens' tight end. [Twitter]
- @jasonbuttcbs: Terrell Suggs declined interview requests after the game today. Second time he's done that after a loss this season. [Twitter]