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The Ravens are probably going to be playing the first weekend in January. As I have said multiple times in this space, I believe the Ravens need to play an AFC divisional round game at home -- at least -- to advance to the Super Bowl. I know they have won three straight games on the road, and their last one in San Diego was crazy enough for me to say that I think something special might be happening with this team. And it might just take a miracle for them to go to, say, New England or Denver and then Houston on the way to New Orleans. That's why it is so critical for the Ravens to secure one of the two first-round byes in the AFC, and even though they might not admit it, they know they need to play as many games at M&T Bank Stadium as they can in the playoffs. It's not just the benefit of getting a free pass to the divisional round. It's getting the right to take on Peyton Manning and the red-hot Denver Broncos or Tom Brady and the red-hot New England Patriots on their home turf. According to ESPN, if the playoffs were to start today -- and thankfully, they don't -- the Ravens would be the No. 3 seed in the AFC because of a three-way tie with the 9-3 Patriots and 9-3 Broncos. But they control their destiny, as they say, because they host the Broncos in two weeks, and they already have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots. Still, Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was one they couldn't afford to lose. I am well-versed in the history of this rivalry, and their opportunity was the closest thing you can get to a gimme in the NFL's closest rivalry. The game was at their house, and a 37-year-old quarterback was the one trying to bust through the door. And because Charlie Batch rallied the Steelers to a 23-20 victory, the Ravens will probably need to win out to get that first-round bye. I'm sorry, but I just don't see that happening, not with their upcoming schedule, not with the way the offense is playing, not with how the defense struggled to get to Batch, not with an injury to Terrell Suggs looming over the loss. The good news -- and you already know this if you read my "Four predictions sure to go wrong" blog post every Sunday morning -- is that my gut feeling is usually wrong, something that is as frustrating in my personal life as it is in my professional one. But it might have to take something special for the Ravens to rally, win out, and avoid having to play a wild-card round game the first weekend in January.
MCT photo by Doug Kapustin
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