It's certainly possible they could make it through several rounds of the postseason without one of their flaws ending their year. It just seems unlikely. Especially lately. It's Week 16 of the NFL season, and the facts are these: The Ravens are 11-4, they've gone 7-0 in their division and they have one of the best records in the NFL. But I'm not sure, despite all the time that has passed, we have a better read on them now than we did after they lost to the Titans in the second week of the season. This team is good. And this team is flawed. Both of those truths were on display Saturday against the Browns. Terrell Suggs summed things up perfectly after the game, equating it to a boxing match in which the favorite is cruising along for several rounds, picking apart an opponent with less talent, then all of a sudden, he realizes he can't land a knockout punch. He tries not to panic, gets rocked on his heels a few times, but ultimately he hangs on to win a decision on the judge's scorecards. It's still a victory, but you're disappointed because everyone knows you can't make those same mistakes if there is a championship at stake. I used to think, early in the season, some of those flaws could be corrected. I now believe it's way too late for that. That doesn't mean the Ravens don't have a shot at winning the Super Bowl, because every team -- in the AFC, at least -- is flawed. In fact, they have as just as good a chance as New England or Pittsburgh to win it all. But no magical fixes are going to occur. Joe Flacco isn't going to suddenly improve his accuracy, and his receivers won't suddenly stop dropping the ball when he does manage to hit them in the hands. The defense isn't going flip a switch and suddenly stop giving up plays in space. The special teams are going to remain inconsistent, at best. Play-calling in the red zone is still going to be dicey. In fact, with some of the injuries the Ravens are dealing with (Marshal Yanda and Anquan Boldin), a few of those flaws might become even more pronounced. But to paraphrase one of Donald Rumsfeld's famous quotes, you go to the playoffs with the team you have, not the team you might want, or wished you could have at a later time. There are issues with personnel, with coaching and with execution. A lot of them can't be corrected at this point, so if you're Baltimore, you do your best to hide the flaws, play to your strengths and take your best shot. This team could rise to the moment and play its best football of the year next week against the Bengals. They could batter and bruise Andy Dalton, open big holes for Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, make plays in the passing game and finish undefeated in their division for the first time in team history. They could fully grasp how important it would be to earn a much-needed physical and mental break that comes with a first-round bye and seize that opportunity. Or, they could just as easily give up 350 yards passing, turn the ball over twice, commit yet another special teams gaffe and lose by two touchdowns. Anyone who tells you they know which performance is more likely to happen next week is lying. And that's probably the most accurate summary I can give you of the 2011 Ravens. They have the potential bring home a trophy. They really do. But it would surprise no one if, instead, they broke some hearts.
Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam