Best/Worst-Case Scenarios For Ravens
With two weeks left in the regular season, the Ravens have already secured a playoff berth for the fifth-straight year.
But Baltimore's last two games will have a major effect on its post-season path.
CBSSports.com's Jason Butt laid out the Ravens' best- and worst-case scenarios:
Best-Case Scenario: No. 3 Seed
- End a three-game losing streak with consecutive victories (vs. Giants, Bengals)
- Patriots lose final two games (losing one would also work), giving Baltimore the division title, the No. 3 seed, a first-round home game and more favorable matchup
- It's not possible for the Ravens to finish in the top two seeds, meaning there's no chance of a first-round bye
Worst-Case Scenario: No. 6 Seed
- Finish on a five-game losing streak with two more losses
- Bengals or Steelers win out AND Colts win at least one, giving the AFC North title to Cincy or Pittsburgh and pushing Baltimore to the No. 6 seed
- The sixth-seeded Ravens travel on the road against No. 3 seed, which is likely to be New England but could also be Houston or Denver
When all is said and done, the Ravens' "reality" will probably lie somewhere in the middle, says Butt.
He believes the Ravens will win at least one of their final two games, win the AFC North and finish with the No. 4 seed with New England winning the No. 3 seed.
As such, he expects Baltimore to open the playoffs at home against either the Colts or Bengals, which "would be winnable games."
Pees Hopes Lewis Returns, Lifts Defense
Here's another great scenario for this weekend: getting linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs on the field at the same time.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees told media yesterday that Lewis is looking like his old self in practice and hopes his leader can return this week to help lift the 26th-ranked Baltimore defense.
"I'd love to have him back," Pees said. "I think it'd be a great emotional lift. But more than that, we could use some bodies in there, too, at linebacker. We'll just have to wait and see whatever they say is a go, but we'd love to have him back."
After being placed on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a triceps injury, Lewis was eligible to play against the Broncos last week. He didn't return, but there is an open roster spot left by Jameel McClain's season-ending neck injury that some are speculating the Ravens are leaving open for Lewis.
If Lewis does return (we'll know for sure by Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline to activate him) and Suggs continues to play through his biceps injury, it would mark the first time the two will be on the field at the same time this season.
"Could the late-season returns of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis provide the emotional spark and improvement the defense needs to put the Ravens in better position for a postseason run?" asked WNST's Luke Jones. "[It] would certainly provide a spiritual boost for a team in the midst of a three-game losing streak."
Suggs is not playing at 100 percent, according to Pees, and finished with just one tackle against the Broncos. And just a few months removed from tearing his triceps, Lewis can't be expected to be at the top of his game either.
Still, the Ravens need him on the field, J. Michael says in the CSNBaltimore.com video below.
One CB Needs To Take 'Bull By The Horns'
Ravens 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith returned Sunday for the first time after sports hernia surgery, but he didn't take back his starting cornerback role as some may have expected.
"[I]t was assumed the Ravens had solidified their nickel package with the second-year defensive back playing on the outside opposite Cary Williams while Corey Graham slid inside to the nickel spot to cover slot receivers," wrote Jones. "Instead, Pees used a combination of Smith, veteran Chris Johnson, and special-teams standout Chykie Brown as the extra cornerback against the Broncos."
Smith only saw 12 defensive snaps while Johnson had 20 and Brown had nine. Harbaugh acknowledged that Smith was not at full strength in his return and didn't have his quickness back yet.
With New York's ninth-ranked passing game next on the schedule, Pees said he'd like to see somebody step up and take the job.
"I'd just like to see someone take the bull by the horns and take the job," Pees said. "We are just going to have to make that decision at game time on who that is going to be, and who that's going to be during the course of the game. The good news is that you do have two or three guys there, but yes I would like to see someone step up and take it."
Week 16 Picks: Giants vs. Ravens
It's the "Desperation Game of the Week," declared Sporting* *News' Vinnie Iyer.
And because the Giants will completely miss the playoffs with a loss while the Ravens are already in, a vast majority of analysts below predict New York will come away with the victory.
Quarterback Eli Manning and his crew seem to play better with their backs against the wall, which is why FoxSports.com's Peter Schrager says the Giants faithful aren't sweating New York's dire circumstances.
"Ask a Giants fan this week how they feel about New York's position in the NFC playoff picture and they'll tell you point blank: 'Pretty [darn] good,'" Schrager wrote.
"You see, this is the New York Giants' way. Or, at least it's been their way under Tom Coughlin and with Eli Manning under center. New York's made a habit of not only winning when no one else expects them to, but doing so in the most dramatic and unlikely of ways. This team isn't at its best when their backs are against the wall. They're at their best when their backs are 1,000 feet behind the wall that their backs are supposed to be up against."
The Baltimore Sun: 5 of 7 pick Giants
"These are two of the harder teams to figure out in the NFL, but the Giants have the more accomplished and confident quarterback and the healthier defense. They also have been at their best in these types of games."
ESPN.com: 10 of 12 pick Giants
Yahoo! Sports: 3 of 3 pick Ravens
SportingNews.com (Iyer): Giants 19, Ravens 16
"Both teams are having unfamiliar struggles, with sluggish offenses, defenses not making enough plays and injuries. Baltimore has clinched a playoff berth, but the Giants must win out to get back into the field. That would make the Giants a tad more desperate because the Ravens can lock up the No. 4 seed and AFC North title against the Bengals in Week 17.
FoxSports.com (Schrager): Giants 33, Ravens 24
"Jim Caldwell's first-ever game calling a team's offensive plays didn't exactly go as planned last week. Joe Flacco struggled mightily, Ray Rice didn't get a single carry or reception on a third down play, and the offensive line had fits. Baltimore may have clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, but their second straight loss at home (after 15 straight wins) couldn't have been much uglier. The Giants live for games like these. The Ravens? I'm still not convinced they even like playing in them."
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Giants 27, Ravens 21
"This is a must-win for the Giants, but they are playing back-to-back road games, which is tough. Baltimore has lost three consecutive games and isn't playing well at all. The Giants are good in this spot, where they have to have it. Watch them here."
SI.com (Peter King): Giants 24, Ravens 20
"Eli Manning has to try to save the Giants' season in the stadium where he had the worst nightmare of his life. In his fourth NFL start, in his rookie year, the Ray Lewis- and Ed Reed-led Ravens defense embarrassed him into a 4-of-18, 27-yard afternoon. They taunted Manning, and it shook him up. Manning, last winter, told me the game was "a nightmare. A disaster. They saw me sweating it, and they took advantage of me, to say the least." For the Giants to be a January force again, Manning has to get his redemption Sunday."
ProFootballTalk.com (Mike Florio): Giants 27, Ravens 20
"The Ravens are desperate for a win. The Giants are more desperate for a win. Even though Eli Manning's Giants have lost to two teams that Peyton Manning's Broncos played previously and beat, the third time needs to be a charm, or Eli will have no chance to chase his third ring."
ProFootballTalk.com (Michael David Smith): Giants 24, Ravens 13
"Both of these teams once looked like locks to win their divisions and now look desperate. Former Giants coach Bill Parcells liked to say that in games like this, you go with the more desperate team. That's the Giants, who probably need to win out to make the playoffs."
- @untouchablejay4 [Suggs]: I Know that lately I've been hard to reach, but rest assured Ravens Nation that everything that can be done, will be done. #baleedat [Twitter]
@vleach44: Feeling the Christmas spirit came into locker room and this was in my locker and o-line lockers. Thanks Flacco * @mzenitz [Carroll County Times]: Paul Kruger on potential Ray Lewis return: "It'd be huge. I think it'd be a huge morale boost as well as for the type of game he brings" * @334upshaw41: Happy birthday to my love my beautiful daughter Londyn...happy 1st love!!!! * C. Williams said he was not fined by the NFL for the late hit penalty he received Sunday against Denver. The league usually notifies players about fines on Thursdays. [CBSSports.com] * After "flirting with a fine" for not placing Suggs on the injury report Wednesday, the outside linebacker re-emerged on the list Thursday and was a full participant. [CSNBaltimore.com] * Josh Katzowitz names 10 players he believes are facing career decisions. On the list is tackle Michael Oher. "In years' past, Oher has been shuffled from left tackle to right tackle and back again, and that's probably one reason the 2009 first-round pick hasn't been as good as some projected (or as good as the hype caused by a best-
selling book might have foretold)," Katzowitz wrote. "Now that he's spent most of the season on Baltimore's left side, it's fair to see how he's performed. Basically, he's been underwhelming (according to Pro Football Focus, he ranks 55th out of 75 NFL offensive tackles). Oher's base salary rises to about $1.7 million next season to go with a $1.17-million bonus in the last year of his rookie contract, but Baltimore needs to decide if it's gotten all it can from Oher's talent reserve. If so, it might make sense to move him back to right tackle or let him go somewhere else after 2013." [CBSSports.com] * Injured cornerback Lardarius Webb passed out gifts at the Boys and Girls Club yesterday … @lwebb21: I'm the man! They love me! Lol [Twitter/Instagram]