Ravens Rise In Changing Playoff Picture
Thanksgiving week was indeed a good one for the Ravens.
The week began with six teams tied for the final AFC playoff spot, and it ended with the Ravens standing at the top with sole possession of it.
Not only did they squeeze out a much needed, two-point win in a hard-fought battle against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night, but they also got help from nearly every team left in the hunt for the final wild-card berth.
"It has been a snakebit season for the Ravens, but if they make it into the playoffs, they'll remember Week 13 — of all numerical designations — as the point when their luck changed for the better in a big way," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck.
If the season ended today, Baltimore would play the Indianapolis Colts (8-4) in the first round. Not a bad place to be considering the dire outlook the Ravens faced after a Week 10 loss in Chicago.
Of the teams the Ravens were tied with last week, the Tennessee Titans (5-7), New York Jets (5-7), San Diego Chargers (5-7) and, of course, Steelers (5-7) were all knocked back in the race with losses. That leaves the Ravens and Dolphins (who beat the Jets) tied with 6-6 records, and the Ravens hold the tiebreaking edge over Miami after a head-to-head win in Week 5.
Baltimore's chances of catching the Cincinnati Bengals in the division race took a hit after Cincy beat the Chargers Sunday and hold a two-game advantage with four weeks remaining.
"The Ravens need the Bengals to lose at least one of their next three games in order for their season-finale at Cincinnati to have any bearing on the AFC North title," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
And the Ravens haven't sealed up that final playoff spot yet either.
December football has arrived, and it's going to be a bitter battle until the end.
"There's not a thing about the fourth quarter of the regular season that the Ravens can take for granted, but they are positioned much better for the final stretch than they were just a few days ago," Schmuck wrote. "During this uneven and often frustrating season, Ravens fans cannot ask for much more than that."
Of all the teams currently in the AFC playoff mix, retired linebacker Ray Lewis thinks opponents better watch out for the Ravens.
"When you look at the way the defense is playing right now and if you can get Joe Flacco] to keep being consistent the way he is with the deep ball, I'm telling you they're probably one of the [scariest teams in the AFC to run the table," Lewis said to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning.
Below are the current AFC playoff standings, plus the remaining schedules of Cincinnati and the four teams that are the biggest threats in stealing the wild-card spot from the Ravens.
Ravens: vs. Vikings (3-8-1), at Lions (7-5), vs. Patriots (9-3), at Bengals (8-4)
Bengals: vs. Colts (8-4), at Steelers (5-7), vs. Vikings (3-8-1), vs. Ravens (6-6)
Dolphins:at Steelers (5-7), vs. Patriots (9-3), at Bills (4-8), vs. Jets (5-7)
Titans: at Broncos (10-2), vs. Cardinals (7-5), at Jaguars (3-9), vs. Texans (2-10)
Steelers: vs. Dolphins (6-6), vs. Bengals (8-4), at Packers (5-6-1), vs. Browns (4-8)
Chargers: vs. Giants (5-7), at Broncos (10-2), vs. Raiders (4-8), vs. Chiefs (9-3)
|AFC PLAYOFF STANDINGS|
|In The Hunt||W||L||DIV||CONF|
Steelers Could Pay Dearly
Mike Tomlin flashed a bright smile on the RavensVision boards after his unflagged sideline interference of kick returner Jacoby Jones was shown.
The Steelers head coach won't be smiling if the reported hefty punishments coming his team's way turn out to be true.
Most everyone assumed Tomlin would get fined, but it could become much, much more than that.
Not only will Tomin be fined, but the Steelers franchise could be too, and each may be a six-figure hit, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. (The NFL gave a $100,000 fine to the Jets in 2010 for an assistant coach tripping a Dolphins player.)
That's not all.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the Steelers may actually lose a draft pick for the sideline incident.
"Internally, the Steelers are also concerned that their coach's action will cost them a draft pick, sources said, something they do not take lightly, even in the late rounds (where the loss of a pick would come)," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.
"That's utterly ridiculous," wrote Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab.
Two factors will reportedly be taken into consideration as the league makes its final determination, which is expected to be handed down as early as this week. First, what is "troubling" to the NFL is that Tomlin was recently added to the competition committee, which helps create the rules for the league. Second, the NFL sent a warning video to all coaches Wednesday that included the Ravens-Jets play last week in which New York was penalized for being in the white area of the sideline.
The Ravens mostly laughed off the incident after the game, but that probably would not have been the case had they lost the game. According to Schefter's sources, many Ravens players "expressed genuine disappointment" that Jones didn't run over Tomlin instead of detouring back to the middle of the field. And the NFL is keeping in mind that a loss in a game with massive playoff implications on national television would have made things worse.
Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis weighed in on Tomlin's intent, saying via Mike and Mike in the Morning, "You clearly saw he [did] it intentionally and that's why the smile came afterward. I don't know where the humor is in that in full competition when somebody is running full speed like that. If he finds humor in it, I guess there is something he must know that we don't know."
"It's difficult to determine Tomlin's intent, but the NFL might decide to make an example of the Steelers in an effort to underscore to other coaches that they better be aware of where they stand during games," added NFL.com's Kevin Patra.
But a draft pick? Really?
Schwab isn't buying it.
"Most likely, the league leaked this to put fear into any team that is even thinking about getting a little too close to the field on their sideline to disrupt a run, as Tomlin did," Schwab wrote. "There's no way the NFL would strip the Steelers of a draft pick over that play ... right?"
Upshaw Not Fined
As soon as outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw was flagged for his special-teams block on Jets punter Ryan Quiqley in Week 12, he immediately thought he would hear from the league.
"M]y whole thought process was that this [fine is going to be crazy," Upshaw said. "I think it was clean. A lot of my teammates think it was clean. I'm sure a lot of [the media] think it was clean, and hey it is what it is."
Turns out, the league thought it was clean enough to not hand down further punishment.
"Upshaw wasn't fined for his hit on Quigley or for his crushing block on Jets outside linebacker Troy Davis, which didn't draw a penalty but ended Davis' season with a chest contusion, according to a league spokesman," reported The Sun's Aaron Wilson.
Continuing the fine talk …
Should J. Smith Be Fined?
The peeps at Steelers Depot believe cornerback Jimmy Smith should be fined for an unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell that knocked him out of the game with a concussion. Even though Bell landed in the end zone, a touchdown was not awarded because the play was called dead when his helmet was knocked off prior to crossing the plane.
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio explains why the hit didn't draw a flag and likely won't draw a fine:
"Per a league source with knowledge of the manner in which rules are interpreted and applied, Smith’s hit did not violate the new 'crown of the helmet' rule. While the hit occurred outside the tackle box and with the top of Smith's helmet, he didn't 'line up' Bell. As the source explained it, the rule is intended to prevent players from taking a direct line at an opponent to deliver a battering-ram blow with the crown. Here, Smith didn't."
- @jeffzrebiecsun: Still think Ravens biggest competition for final playoff spot is Pittsburgh. [Twitter]
- @BaltimoreLuke: The #Ravens are 6-6 for the third time in team history. In 2002, they finished 7-9 & missed the playoffs. They went 9-7 & made it in 2009. [Twitter]
- No. 4 Auburn stunned No. 1 Alabama in a thrilling ending with a 109-yard touchdown return up the sideline after a missed field goal to win 34-28. … @TerezOwens sports blogger]: [If only #MikeTomlin was there #IronBowl #Auburn #alabama #tripgate [Twitter]
- @CliftonBrownCSN: #Ravens run defense will face severe test against #Vikings next week. Adrian Peterson got 211 yards against #Bears today. #RavensTalk [Twitter]
- @BirkMatt: Listening to the media you would think @AdrianPeterson forgot how to play football this year. Congrats on 10k. #BestIEverPlayedWith [Twitter]
- @jeffzrebiecsun: Vikings QB Christian Ponder knocked out of today's game with concussion. #Ravens host Vikings next Sunday. [Twitter]
- @BPierce_30: Put a smile on a random persons face today... U nvr know what kinda day they r having [Twitter]
- @334Upshaw41: Man only thing about this [loss] all my [Ravens] teammates gone give me hell Monday lol but I'm ready #ROLLTIDE they know I'm gone ride with my team [Twitter]
- Powerful feature on the journey of defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson, who was abandoned by his birth parents and became a Ravens draft pick in 2012. [The Baltimore Sun]
- Love it! … @ryanmink: This is what happens when you're at the game. You miss out on great commercials like this. [Twitter |YouTube]