Is It an Overreaction to Expect Ravens to Miss the Playoffs?
Three weeks ago, the Ravens held the No. 1 seed in the AFC and had a 91 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
Three consecutive agonizing losses later, Baltimore has fallen to the No. 8 seed — one spot out of the seven-team playoff field — and its playoff chances have plummeted to slightly better than a 50-50 proposition.
This Sunday, the Ravens (8-6) go on the road to play the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), a team that blew them out at home in Week 7, in a game that will go a long way in deciding who wins the AFC North.
Does the Ravens' downward spiral, tough remaining schedule and injury-ravaged roster make it a foregone conclusion that they'll miss the playoffs?
That would be an overreaction, ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote. Taking the Green Bay Packers, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, down to the wire this past Sunday proved that the Ravens should never be counted out.
"The Ravens showed Sunday that they are to be reckoned with no matter who they're playing or how shorthanded they are," Graziano wrote. "They go to Cincinnati next week, then finish up with home games against the Rams and Steelers. All tough games, but the Ravens are a tough game for anyone, too."
The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) and Cleveland Browns (7-7) also are in the thick of the AFC North race, as only one game separates the first-place Bengals from the last-place Browns.
"You can like the Bengals' chances better, or even make a case for Cleveland or Pittsburgh. But to rule out John Harbaugh's Ravens would be a mistake," Graziano wrote.
Reaching 10 wins seems to be the magic number, no matter who those wins come against. While Sunday's game against the Bengals is close to a must-win to claim the AFC North crown, the Ravens would still have a 91% chance of making the playoffs if they were to lose that game and win their final two home contests against the Rams and Steelers, according to the New York Times’ playoff simulator.
John Harbaugh's Two-Point Conversion Decisions 'Haven't Really Been About Analytics'
The debate over Harbaugh's decision to attempt a two-point conversion with 42 seconds left in Sunday's game continues to rage on. One aspect of the conversation is how much analytics factored into the decision.
Harbaugh said after the game that he doesn't always go by the book regardless of what the analytics say to do in a given situation.
"It's mostly gut," Harbaugh said. "The numbers are the numbers, but the numbers aren't perfect. I can tell you this; I've shot a lot of holes in the numbers with the numbers guys. The numbers are never going to be perfect. They don't take everything into account, so you just make a decision. The numbers are part of it, but the numbers aren't the main decision."
The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman agreed with Harbaugh's thought process.
"The logic on Sunday's two-point conversion call is easy to understand. This wasn't riverboat gambling. This wasn't 'analytics.' … This was just a head coach looking at the game and trusting his gut on what would give his team the best chance to win," Sherman wrote. "This was a team with 17 players on injured reserve, five more on the COVID list, plus four more starters who were neither on IR or COVID-IR but were inactive. I don't know if they're the most injured team in NFL history, but they've gotta be close. As such, the Ravens were big underdogs on Sunday — and both logic and historic evidence indicate that big underdogs shouldn't play for OT.
"By the end of Sunday's game, six of their seven top corners from the start of the season were gone, as were both of the team's Week 1 starting safeties. Would you send your fourth- and fifth-string cornerbacks out for another 10 minutes against Aaron Rodgers? What if I told you your own MVP quarterback was injured, and you were starting an undrafted [second-year player] at QB? Would you want to extend the game, or reduce it to a single play?"
Slate’s Alex Kirshner expressed a similar sentiment.
"There are a couple of situations where math should make a coach's decision obvious, but the Ravens' decisions the past few weeks haven't really been about 'analytics' at all," Kirshner wrote. "They've been about Harbaugh evaluating his team in ways that sound more old-school than new, arriving at football decisions rather than mathematical ones, and then watching them not work out.
"The outcomes have been bad for the Ravens, but they haven't come down to math nearly as much as they've come down to football rationale. If we accept that aggressive coaches are just coaching football rather than attempting a full-on Excel takeover of the sport, we'll understand them better and unlock a more productive way to evaluate their decisions in critical moments."
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio looked at various factors that affected Harbaugh's decision to go for two. One that hasn't been talked about much is the pressure it would have put on the Packers if the two-point conversion was successful and the Ravens were ahead by a point as opposed to the score being tied.
"Green Bay's urgency would have been very different if the game were tied than if the Ravens were ahead," Florio wrote. "In a tie game, the Packers would have been much more careful about turning the ball over. If they'd landed on a fourth down in their own end of the field, they would have punted. If behind, the Packers would have thrown caution to the wind. Throughout that final drive, the Packers could have decided at any point to just take a knee and go to overtime. If losing, they'd have to keep pressing."
Mike Greenberg: There Aren't 32 Quarterbacks Better Than Tyler Huntley
As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, Huntley is rightfully receiving rave reviews for his performances this season when Lamar Jackson has been sidelined.
It appears the Ravens couldn't have found a better backup for Jackson, but is Huntley destined to be a starter somewhere else?
"There aren't 32 quarterbacks in the NFL better than he looked [Sunday]," ESPN's Mike Greenberg said on "Get Up."
Greenberg's colleague, Ryan Clark said: "This is a conversation of can Tyler Huntley be the starting quarterback for someone? If he continues in the way that he's played since having opportunities to play, he can."
Russell Street Report’s Taylor Lyons wrote: "Of all the Ravens that earned themselves the most money this season, Huntley is No. 1 on that list. He's established himself as a legitimate top 25-30 quarterback and paved the path for a long and prosperous playing career."
If Huntley does end up being a starter, it's highly unlikely to happen next season. He's an exclusive rights free agent in 2022, meaning that if the Ravens offer him a one-year contract at the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), he cannot negotiate with other teams.
"There is zero chance the Ravens will let Huntley out the door next year," NFL.com’s Kevin Patra wrote. "He's proven he can be one of the greatest commodities in football: a backup QB capable of running the offense and providing dynamic ability when the starter is out."
ESPN's Rex Ryan agreed that Huntley isn't going anywhere, even if the Ravens receive trade offers for him in the offseason.
"If you're the Baltimore Ravens, no way, no heck are you going to let this man leave the building," Ryan said on "Get Up."
When Greenberg asked what if a team offered the Ravens a third-round pick for Huntley, Ryan replied: "A third-round pick? Yeah, with two first-round picks. Then you consider it."