The Ravens lost on the road, 34-14, to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night. And now that they are back in second place in the AFC North -- they will remain there unless the Pittsburgh Steelers lose another game -- the consensus among a sampling of national writers is that the Ravens will meet a similar fate in the playoffs.
In a matter of hours Sunday night, the Ravens went from being one of the favorites to play in the Super Bowl to an exposed wild-card team that probably won't survive another road odyssey throughout the AFC playoffs.
"Imagine what a sick feeling the Ravens had this morning, flying back across the United States," Peter King of Sports Illustrated wrote in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column. "They worked so hard to earn supremacy in the AFC North, and they swept Pittsburgh, yet they flew home knowing if Pittsburgh wins out, the Ravens will have to use the road route AGAIN to advance in the playoffs. All that hard work could be for naught."
Wrote Clark Judge of CBS Sports, "These are supposed to be the big, bad Baltimore Ravens, a physical club that finally would beat Pittsburgh to the top of the division, gain a first-round bye and benefit from an enormous home-field advantage for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's tenure. Only that might not happen, and, as I said, that's a warning, people. Baltimore lost to Tennessee on the road. It lost to Seattle on the road. It lost to Jacksonville on the road. Now, this. There isn't a winning club in that group. So how do the Ravens run the table on the road next month against the best the AFC has to offer? Answer: They probably don't."
The Ravens are 3-4 on the road this season. None of those four losses came against a team that current has a winning record. But the 7-7 Chargers team we saw Sunday is one of the NFL's most dangerous in December.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley -- who used to work for The Baltimore Sun, of course -- believes the Ravens defense could be in trouble if they play Rivers or one of the AFC's other top quarterbacks on the road in the playoffs.
"Outside of [Ben] Roethlisberger, look at the quarterbacks that the Ravens have beaten: Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Schaub (without Andre Johnson), Kevin Kolb, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Colt McCoy and Dan Orlovsky," Hensley wrote Sunday night. "What happens if the Ravens have to face Tom Brady in the playoffs? Or Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl? Or even Rivers again in the postseason?"
Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News also believes that the Baltimore secondary could be its undoing.
"Baltimore is used to stuffing the run, putting teams in uncomfortable third-and-long situations and racking up sacks as the league's premier pass-rushing team," wrote Iyer, who also thinks that the Ravens offense is still looking for an identity. "But when the front seven struggles to apply pressure like it did in San Diego, giving talented quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers plenty of time, they can pick apart the Ravens' cornerbacks. Rivers may not end up in the playoffs, but Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger will be there."
As Terrell Suggs said after the loss, the Ravens are in hell right now, but all it takes is one loss by the Steelers -- maybe against the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football" -- and the Ravens are back in first place.
"Even though the Ravens are still a serious contender, they now have to sit back and hope the Steelers suffer the same fate in San Francisco on Monday night," wrote Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated. "If they don't, all that would stand between Pittsburgh and the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed -- not to mention those postseason home games that the Ravens and their fans want so, so badly -- are games against St. Louis and Cleveland."
You tell me: Will the Ravens be doomed in the playoffs if they aren't able to win the AFC North?