Will Ravens Stamp Themselves as Legit Contenders? 51 Ravens-Steelers Picks
There's a massive opportunity for the Ravens to prove who they are in front of a national audience against a bitter rival on Sunday Night Football.
"The Ravens don't have to win this game to make the playoffs, but it's a significant opportunity to stamp themselves as the team the AFC heavyweights want to avoid in January," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
The thing is, Zrebiec and 48 other analysts below don't think the Ravens will get that stamp. They're predicting a Pittsburgh Steelers victory. Only four pundits foresee a Ravens win.
That's because for every reason there is to believe Baltimore will pull off the upset, there's a "yeah, but" to counter.
The Ravens are peaking at the right time, riding a three-game winning streak. Yeah, but the Steelers have won their last seven.
The Ravens have been the best fourth-quarter team this season, scoring 111 points and surrendering just 44. Yeah, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the king of late-game magic with 31 career fourth-quarter comebacks, including last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. That mark is the sixth-best of all-time, by the way.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense may have found an identity last week with their best performance of the year, scoring 37 points. Yeah, but that was against the 26th-ranked Detroit Lions defense. The Steelers have the fourth-ranked defense.
The Steelers are playing on a short week after a brutal, physical game against the Bengals. Yeah, but Pittsburgh still has a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and probably the best receiver (Antonio Brown) and running back in the league (Le'Veon Bell).
The Steelers won't have linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) or receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (suspension). Yeah, but the Ravens won't have cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (neck) is beat up.
The Ravens are motivated to keep their AFC wild-card spot. Yeah, but the Steelers are motivated to win the AFC North. They also want to grant Shazier's hospital request to beat Baltimore.
So, it looks like most pundits feel like the "yeah, but" arguments are stronger. But let's end this section with a dose of optimism from, of all people, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.
"The Steelers have been living too close to the edge in recent weeks," he wrote. "The Ravens knock them off the cliff, with possibly the first of two straight home losses." (You read that last part right. More on that in the next section.)
Ravens-Chargers AFC Championship? Florio Says It Isn't as Crazy as It Sounds
You're not gonna find too many people predicting anything other than a Steelers-Patriots AFC title game.
Shoot, even Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was bold enough to talk about such a scenario IN WEEK 12.
Maybe you'll find someone to say one of the two AFC powerhouses will get knocked out. But BOTH, I'll admit that sounds a little crazy.
But Florio lays out an argument that he says may not be so crazy after all. And since I'm betting most everyone reading this column would love to see the Ravens defy all the odds, you'll probably want to entertain this idea:
"Indulge me for a moment here. (Or don't; it's not going to stop me.)" wrote Florio. "Let's assume the following AFC playoff seeding: 1. Patriots; 2. Steelers; 3. Titans/Jaguars; 4. Chargers; 5. Jaguars/Titans; 6. Ravens.
"In the wild-card round, the Ravens would need to win on the road against the AFC South champion, and the Chargers would have to win at home against the AFC South wild-card qualifier. Then, the sixth-seeded Ravens would go to New England, where the Ravens always play better than expected — and have won multiple times in the playoffs. The Chargers would go to Pittsburgh, to face a Steelers team that is playing like it has one eye on the Patriots. … However it plays out, crazier things have happened than what would be an unlikely but hardly crazy outcome to the AFC playoff tree."
Shazier Undergoes Surgery; Steelers More Worried About Health Than Football Future
The Steelers announced Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery to address his back injury suffered against the Bengals.
"From what I am told by several sources informed of this situation, the recovery that would be associated with the spinal stabilization surgery would take months, three or four or maybe even five or six, just before Ryan Shazier even considers playing football again or his future," NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said. "But understand, this is a very serious situation for Ryan Shazier. We don't know much, if anything, about his football playing future. We do know that his 2017 season is over, and he remains hospitalized in Pittsburgh as he recovers from spinal stabilization surgery."
Shazier's return to the football field is the last thing on the Steelers' mind. Their attention has shifted to praying he'll have a healthy life.
"I'm not worried about him playing for us again; I'm more worried about him," Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler said Thursday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette. "The football stuff is secondary. His life is a lot more important to me than football."
Mosley Upgraded to Full Participant, Indicating He'll Play
While the Steelers will be without their middle linebacker Sunday, yesterday's injury report was an indication that the Ravens will have theirs.
After sitting out Wednesday's practice with a neck injury, Mosley was a full participant Thursday.
"The upgrade suggests that Mosley — who is tied for fifth in the NFL in tackles with 101 and has two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one sack — will make his usual start in Sunday night's game at the Pittsburgh Steelers," The Sun's Edward Lee wrote.
"Mosley has been perhaps the Ravens' best defensive player, but he hasn't looked as explosive the past couple of weeks and you'd have to think injuries are the reason," added Zrebiec. "Expect the Steelers to try to isolate Mosley on Sunday in matchups with Le'Veon Bell."
Meanwhile, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (back) went in the opposite direction. He was a limited participant Wednesday, but sat out completely Thursday.
Probably the best news of all is that Marty Mornhinweg believes Flacco's recent improved play is tied to feeling healthier than ever this season.
"I think people forget that he came in with a little back issue with three or four days of practices to start the season," the Ravens offensive coordinator said. "So my thought looking back on it was, let's be in the thing at about midseason [with] Joe healthy. I thought that would be key. So here we are, and he's about as healthy as he's been all year."
Could Jerry Rosburg Become a Head Coach Target?
SB Nation asked its 32 local bloggers to name assistant coaches in their cities that could become candidates for one of the eventual head-coaching vacancies that will become available. The New York Giants gig is already up for grabs.
Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle P. Barber thinks another franchise could target Ravens Associate Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
Most head coaches are selected from the offensive or defensive coordinator pool, but if Rosburg is interested in taking the next step, all he has to do is look at John Harbaugh for inspiration. Just like Harbaugh, Rosburg is a long-time special teams guru, which the Ravens found particularly valuable when hiring their head coach because leading special teams required him to work with the entire 53-man roster.
Rosburg's units have been ranked in the top five of NFL writer Rick Gosselin's annual special teams report for five* *straight years.
"[Since coming to Baltimore in 2008], he's produced outstanding talents, including the continued success of Matt Stover, Sam Koch, Jacoby Jones, Anthony Levine Sr., Albert McClellan, Morgan Cox and the greatest leg in the game, Justin Tucker," Barber wrote. "On top of coaching the special teams unit, Mr. Rosburg is also the assistant head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He's knowledgeable in all areas of the game, and I have no doubt he participates in more meetings than just about anybody within the Ravens organization.
"I'm sure he enjoys coaching and fielding the best special teams unit in the NFL, and one of the best of all time, but a big pay day from the New York Giants and a chance to lead his own team may be enticing."
Thoughts on Offseason Cornerback Moves, Unsung Hero, Playoff Tiebreakers
Just like John Eisenberg a few days ago, Zrebiec analyzed the long-term effects of Smith's Achilles injury. Both writers believe Smith will be back next year, and both writers talked about the strong depth at the position.
But Zrebiec took it a step further by saying the Ravens should consider making more offseason moves to bolster the unit.
"One, there's certainly no guarantee Smith will be available for the start of next season as Achilles tears require a long recovery time," he wrote. "Two, nobody knows what type of long-term mental and physical toll yet another injury will take on Smith. And three, from a team perspective, do the Ravens now have to prioritize adding another outside cornerback this offseason? … Either way, the uncertainty of Smith's status, coupled with the Ravens' struggles over the years to keep corners healthy, probably means they shouldn't stand pat at the position this offseason. I'm not saying they need to use a first-round pick on a corner or sign one to a lucrative deal in free agency. But I don't think you can ignore the position this offseason either."
By the way, for those who argue the Ravens should've rested Smith because of his Achilles tendonitis to avoid tearing it for a healthy end-of-season playoff push, former NFL team doctor David Chao wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune that the majority of players dealing with Achilles tendinitis don't suffer tears.
"There is no reason for him to have not been playing," Chao wrote.
Zrebiec offered more than a dozen other opinions in his latest column, and I pulled out a few below:
- "When we talk about unsung figures for the Ravens this year, first-year Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris warrants mention."
- "Without Jimmy Smith, you figure Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees might be a little more hesitant to blitz Sunday and leave Humphrey and Canady on an island against the Steelers' talented receivers, so the Ravens had better get some pressure from their front four on Ben Roethlisberger."
- "Something to keep in mind as we discuss potential wild-card scenarios. The first tiebreaker for a wild-card spot is head-to-head play. The second is record within the conference. The Ravens are 5-3 against AFC foes. That's the second-best mark among the AFC wild-card hopefuls. It probably goes without saying that if the Ravens win three of their final four games, it's pretty much a lock they'll get into the postseason."