The consensus about a week ago was that if the Ravens qualified for the postseason, they would be better off as the AFC’s No. 5 seed, which would mean a first-round playoff matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, than as the No. 6 seed, which would result in a trip to Florida to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But that viewpoint has changed a bit in the wake of the San Francisco 49ers’ 44-point shredding of the Jaguars’ top-ranked defense and Blake Bortles’ reverting to his mistake-prone ways, with three interceptions and a fumble Sunday. The Chiefs, meanwhile, powered their way to an AFC West title Sunday with a relatively comfortable victory over the Miami Dolphins.
If the Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale Sunday, they’ll get the fifth seed and a date with the Chiefs the following week. If the Ravens lose to the Bengals and get into the playoffs by virtue of a Buffalo Bills loss to the Dolphins, the Ravens would be the sixth seed — assuming the Tennessee Titans also defeat the Jaguars on Sunday. As the sixth seed, the Ravens would get a rematch against the Jaguars, who beat them, 44-7, in London.
The Ravens aren’t in a position to pick their opponent, but would it even matter if they were? When the Ravens are at their best — and their form on a week-to-week basis has proved entirely unpredictable — they’re plenty capable of winning in both Kansas City and Jacksonville. Otherwise, it’s sort of a pick-your-poison proposition.
The Chiefs are more athletic and dynamic on offense, but their defense isn’t as imposing. The Jaguars are loaded with speed and talent at every level of their defense, but Bortles is far more apt to turn the ball over than the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, which would obviously work in the favor of the turnover-dependent Ravens. The Chiefs also have a better home-field advantage, and the Ravens would not only have to deal with a more raucous environment at Arrowhead Stadium, but also possibly some weather elements that wouldn’t exist in Jacksonville.
Any way you look at it, there will be challenges. The Ravens just need to focus on beating the Bengals and playing better in all three facets so they’ll have a chance to win a road playoff game.
Front and center
Remember when there was so much angst about who would play center this year for the Ravens?
Ryan Jensen has settled much of that with a solid season in which he’s become a fan and locker room favorite with his toughness, feistiness and consistency on the field. Jensen has become one of the Ravens’ top pending unrestricted free agents, and he plays a position where continuity is important.
It’s not easy to find a quality center, either in free agency or the draft. The Ravens should get starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis back from injury next year. A fourth-round pick this year, guard Nico Siragusa, also should return after missing this season with a knee injury.
Their returns would allow the Ravens to let guard James Hurst, also a pending unrestricted free agent, hit the market, but they have no obvious replacements for Jensen on the roster.
The Ravens already have a host of offensive needs this offseason. Re-signing Jensen would keep them from adding a starting center to that list.
The season-ending knee injury to undrafted rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill might not be a huge hit to the Ravens’ playoff chances or their postseason potential. Hill played 16 defensive snaps all season and was mostly used on special teams.
But it’s the type of injury that team officials hate, as it can significantly stall the development of a talented young player while complicating the decision-making process at cornerback in the offseason.
Hill, who made the team on the strength of a strong preseason and training camp, is now robbed of a valuable offseason to get bigger and stronger. We’ll see how his rehabilitation process goes, but with a torn ACL and MCL, you’d expect him to miss most of the Ravens’ various minicamps, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready at any point in training camp, either. Those are valuable repetitions for a young player to miss.
As for the Ravens, they’re already unsure about whether top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles tendon in early December, will be ready for the start of next year. Slot cornerback Tavon Young will be coming off a significant knee injury, and now Hill will be as well. The Ravens feel very good about their cornerback depth, but recent events should prevent them from ignoring the position this offseason.
Ten quick thoughts
1) There are a few reasons the Ravens struggle in the red zone, and play-calling is one of them. But many of the team’s red-zone problems stem from the team’s lack of a big and physical target who can go up and make a contested catch. Seriously, when is the last time you saw the Ravens score on a fade route?
2) The Ravens’ eight road opponents next year: Cincinnati, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans. That will not be easy to navigate.
3) At one point early in training camp, Ravens special teams coordinator and associate head coach Jerry Rosburg called recently promoted wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo the team’s best gunner. Fans are really excited about Adeboyejo’s potential contributions on offense, but I think it’s more likely he’ll play a bigger role on special teams.
4) Mike Wallace could’ve chosen his words more carefully when he said he would have “flipped the bird to the whole stadium” had he gotten the sarcastic cheers that Breshad Perriman received after he made his two catches Saturday. But I really have no problem with Wallace’s response. He’s one of Perriman’s closest friends and biggest supporters. He has every right to defend his teammate, just as fans have the right to react however they want to a catch by Perriman.
5) That the Ravens forced only one three-and-out against the Indianapolis Colts in nine possessions has to be concerning. The Ravens have been a very good third-down defense, and if they’re going to have success the rest of the way, they are not going to be able to depend on turnovers to get the unit off the field.
6) If I’m a Ravens official, I’d be far more worried that running back Alex Collins has fumbled twice in the past three games — the Ravens recovered both — than the fact that he averaged 1.6 and 2.8 yards per carry over the past two contests, respectively.
7) There have been a lot of questions about why the suddenly pass-rush-challenged Ravens don’t move Kamalei Correa outside and give him a shot. Correa is the top reserve to both C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor, and that’s a more important role now the fourth or fifth option in the outside linebacker rotation. I also can’t recall the last time Correa got a rep at outside linebacker. Having him suddenly change positions in Week 17 isn’t fair to him or the team. If you want to make that change, you probably have to wait until the offseason.
8) According to Pro Football Focus, Ravens right guard Matt Skura has allowed only one quarterback hit all season. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who started the season on the practice squad.
9) It’s not that interior defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are playing poorly. The Ravens just need them to be dominant for their defense to be at its peak. The Browns had their 59-yard run go through the middle two weeks ago, and the Colts found some holes, too.
10) Count me among those who believe the Bengals will be plenty of motivated to play Sunday. The key for the Ravens, though, will be the first quarter. Jump on the Bengals early, and you give them ample reason to start thinking about the upcoming offseason. Plus, a sizable early Ravens lead on the out-of-town scoreboard certainly wouldn’t help the morale of the Buffalo Bills, who, to make the postseason, need to beat the Dolphins and have the Ravens lose.