Late For Work 12/7: Suddenly Everyone LOVES Ravens In National Power Rankings

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Suddenly Everyone LOVES Ravens In National Power Rankings

It's amazing what one blowout win will do for a team's reputation.

I mean, even Rodney Harrison sees the Ravens as the biggest threat to top AFC contenders despite criticizing the team a few weeks ago for having to rely too much on a kicker and 37-year-old receiver.

Oh how quickly things can change.

In the power rankings below, the Ravens moved up a healthy average of 3.5 spots since last week to a No. 10 average ranking. In some cases, Baltimore skyrocketed up boards, including ESPN's, where they moved up seven spots for a No. 6 ranking.

Remember in late October when Baltimore was nearing the bottom of these lists with some outlets placing the team as low as No. 27?

The national media is having a lovefest with the Ravens, and fans should soak it all in because it can change in the blink of an eye …

ESPN: No. 6 (moved up seven spots)
"Don't fall too hard for Joe Flacco's four-touchdown game Sunday. It was only the third time this season he has thrown multiple touchdown passes in a game, and he still has only four more touchdowns than picks this season. If he does it again against the Patriots, then that's a different story."

NFL.com: No. 8 (moved up five spots)
"Joe Flacco was straight-up dealing out there Sunday. The franchise quarterback completed 36 of his 47 throws for 381 yards and four touchdowns (against one pick). You start looking around that Ravens offense, and you wonder why the defense has been forced to carry this team several times this season (SEE: wins versus the Bills, Steelers, Bengals). The talent is there, with Mike Wallace stretching the field, Steve Smith Sr. serving as the pesky underneath receiver and second-year speedster Breshad Perriman showcasing his playmaking ability. The reliable Dennis Pitta has 61 catches. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon seem to be at least viable as a 1-2 punch at RB. And yet, prior to Sunday's 38-point outburst, the Ravens ranked 24th in scoring offense. Again, football is weird."

Pro Football Focus: No. 8 (moved up two spots)
"Through Week 13, the Ravens own the league's highest-graded run defense by a large margin. While Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi graded well (80.8) on account of his season-high seven missed tackles forced on rushing attempts, he recorded just 61 total rushing yards and no touchdowns against the Ravens, adding 26 yards on six receptions. Baltimore—currently atop the AFC North, at 7-5, due to its Week 9 win over Pittsburgh—will face one of its toughest tests of the season on Sunday night, traveling to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the 10-2 New England Patriots."

Bleacher Report: No. 9 (moved up three spots)
"At some point, the Ravens decided just to let Joe Flacco throw. There was no run game. There was no viable play-action threat. Just one purple-clad former Super Bowl MVP carving up a depleted secondary with every one of his 36 completions. He was surgical in breaking down the Dolphins on Sunday. Get that play out of No. 5, and Baltimore might make some noise. Its defense both shut down Jay Ajayi and held Ryan Tannehill to under eight yards per completion. Outside linebacker Matt Judon had an All-22 kind of week."

CBS Sports: No. 9 (moved up three spots)
"They head to New England to face the Patriots at 7-5 and atop the division. Are they ready for that challenge?"

USA Today: No. 11 (moved up one spot)
"Dennis Pitta's return from a twice-fractured hip is one of 2016's best stories. He scored twice Sunday, nearly three years since his previous TD."

ProFootballTalk.com: No. 11 (moved up four spots)
"If they win the division, they'll be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoffs."

Yahoo! Sports: No. 12 (moved up three spots)
"That was an eye-opening win against Miami. If the Ravens can double down on that momentum next Monday night at the Patriots, then they should be viewed in a much different way."

Fox Sports: No. 14 (moved up five spots)
"The most surprising score of the week came by way of the Ravens' rout of Miami. Joe Flacco looked like his circa-Super Bowl self and the defense absolutely shut down Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi. This is the first time both the offense and defense came together to play a complete game."

'Inside The NFL' Crew Can See Ravens Winning Super Bowl

The Baltimore love continues …

The crew from Showtime's "Inside The NFL" – consisting of James Brown, Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and Michael Irvin – not only think the Ravens can reach the playoffs, but they could see them winning the Super Bowl.

Check out the two segments from last night's show below, with a review of the Ravens' win Sunday and then the crew talking about the team's potential.

Keep An Eye On Denver, As Wild-Card Spot Could Be In Play

The top priority every season is to win the AFC North, and the division crown is still in the Ravens' grasp right now.

But a little insurance never hurt anyone.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) are able to wrestle away the division title from the Ravens (7-5) in the final four games of the season, the second wild-card seed could still be in play after it was once thought to be a lock for one of the AFC West teams.

But that's not the case anymore as the Denver Broncos (8-4) are susceptible to losing their grip on the final AFC playoff spot. And guess who is riiiiight behind them if they do? Yup, the Ravens, who put themselves in position after beating the Miami Dolphins.

The Steelers have an easier final stretch than the Ravens, who will finish the season at New England, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh and at Cincinnati. 

"If the Ravens finish 3-1 and one of those victories is over the Steelers, they'll win the AFC North," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "If they lose to the Steelers and finish 9-7, a wild card is not completely out of the question. However, they'll need the Broncos to falter down the stretch."

That means Ravens should keep an eye on Denver, who may have an even more brutal schedule than Baltimore. The Broncos finish at Tennessee, vs. New England, at Kansas City and vs. Oakland.

Yikes.

"That's an extremely tough remaining schedule," wrote Zrebiec.

Ravens Take Back NFL's Top Defensive Spot Behind Hulking Line

The Ravens are the league's No. 1 overall defense again.

They lost the top spot to the Arizona Cardinals for a couple weeks after their loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but regained it with a dominating effort over the Dolphins. Baltimore allows a paltry 296.1 yards per game.

If Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees' squad can finish the year with a No. 1 ranking, it will be just the second time in a rich defensive franchise history. The only other time didn't even happen with the 2000 defense, which is considered one of the best units in league history. Instead, it was the 2006 Ravens who own the honor as the only Ravens defense to finish on top at the end of the season.

You need all 11 men to play well in order to be the best, but the strength of the 2016 Ravens may be two hulking defensive tackles who form a purple wall that is nearly impossible for opposing offenses to run through.

"The Broncos and Chiefs have the megastar defensive backs and pass rushers," wrote TheMMQB.com's Andy Benoit. "The Texans are a well-coached veteran unit built on disguised matchup coverages and blitzes. The Patriots simply don't miss tackles or assignments.

"Tremendous AFC defenses this year, indeed. But come January, the best could reside in Baltimore. And it'd be primarily for an old-school reason: no one can run on these guys."

Benoit points to 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern) and undrafted rookie Michael Pierce (Samford) as the primary bricks in that purple wall.

Williams consistently takes on double teams, opening things up for linebackers to make clean tackles. And Pierce has made the unlikely fast jump from a small-school program to the pros.

Run defense in today's NFL is underrated, but it could make a major difference if the Ravens advance to the playoffs.

"True, having a great run defense in today's pass-happy NFL is a bit like having an expansive CD collection," Benoit wrote. "But consider: at least half of this year's likely AFC playoff clubs—Denver, Kansas City and Houston—have offenses that are not built to survive long without their ground game.

"And Baltimore's only competition in the AFC North, the Steelers, are currently thin at wide receiver and would likely struggle without running the ball."

Why Not Place Taliaferro, Gillmore, Lewis On Injured Reserve?

The Ravens don't appear to be getting back rookie guard Alex Lewis from a high ankle sprain any time soon.

Head Coach John Harbaugh also didn't seem very optimistic about tight end Crockett Gillmore and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro either because hamstring injuries are so unpredictable.

So why not put them on injured reserve, and put someone healthy on the roster?

"If they needed a roster spot, they probably would," wrote Zrebiec. "But the reality is the Ravens are a pretty healthy team for this late in the year and they don't have a pressing need at any position. You might as well allow Gillmore and Taliaferro the time to recover. The Ravens are an injury at tight end or running back away from possibly needing to rely on either one of those guys."

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