Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh talks about the Texans' J.J. Watt and preparing to face either of Houston's two quarterbacks. (BSMG)
It's not impossible that the Ravens could clinch a playoff spot this weekend, but it's certainly not likely. For that to happen, the Ravens would not only have to beat the Houston Texans, but they'd need the San Diego Chargers to lose to the San Francisco 49ers, the Buffalo Bills to lose to the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Denver Broncos will play a role in determining the Ravens' playoff fate. The Broncos play the first-place Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, and a Bengals loss, coupled by a Ravens win, could put the Ravens in first place depending on what the Steelers do against the Chiefs.
A Broncos win would also mean that the New England Patriots, wanting to hold off Denver for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, would probably be forced to play all their starters in their regular-season finale against the Bills. The Ravens are one game ahead of the Bills for a wild-card spot, so they certainly could use Buffalo to drop one more game.
** Rookie safety Terrence Brooks' season-ending knee injury may not have much effect on the 2014 Ravens because the third-round pick wasn't playing much anyway. But it's a tough break for Brooks, who misses out on some valuable practice repetitions the rest of the season and in the offseason -- and for the Ravens, who will have to do something to solidify the safety position for 2015. The Ravens haven't revealed the exact diagnosis on Brooks, but a significant knee injury will certainly affect his preparation for the 2015 campaign and could stretch well into next season.
Since Nov. 4, the Ravens have released two defensive backs (Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks), will have put five on injured reserve (Jackson, Brooks, Jimmy Smith, Tramain Jacobs and Danny Gorrer), activated one from injured reserve with a designation to return (Jackson), promoted one from the practice squad (Jacobs), and acquired three (Gorrer, Rashaan Melvin and Antoine Cason) either via waiver claims, free-agent signings or from other team's practice squads.
That means that they've made 12 transactions involving defensive backs in a 43-day span and that doesn't count the cornerback that they'll likely add to take Jackson's spot.
** There's been plenty written about the resurgence of the Ravens' running game. What hasn't gotten as much attention – and it really should – is the improvement of the pass protection. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked only 16 times, second-fewest in the NFL behind the Broncos' Peyton Manning (14 sacks).
Flacco, if you recall, was sacked 48 times last season, second-most in the NFL. Flacco hasn't been sacked at all in six of 14 games this season, including Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, who entered the game with the third-most sacks in the NFL. He's been sacked only once in five games. So that means the opposition has had one sack or fewer on Flacco in 11 of 14 games, which represents a ridiculous turnaround for the offensive line.
** Another interesting sack statistic: Elvis Dumervil has 17 sacks, one more than the Atlanta Falcons have as a team. Dumervil and Terrell Suggs' combined 28 sacks are more than seven other teams have.
** I said this on Twitter, but it's worth reiterating. The Ravens really missed running back Lorenzo Taliaferro against the Jaguars and they'll continue to miss him going forward if the rookie remains sidelined with a sprained foot.
Taliaferro has been used sparingly this season, so he would have had fresh legs, and I think he could have given the Ravens the late-season boost that Bernard Pierce provided as a rookie in the Super Bowl year. Big backs are so important in December, when the weather gets colder and the rushing yards are hard to come by. We saw that Sunday against the Jaguars. Justin Forsett looked banged up and Pierce didn't look decisive, and the Ravens got virtually nothing going on the ground until late in the fourth quarter.
** Pro Bowl balloting closed yesterday and the players selected will be officially announced next Tuesday. The Ravens have had at least four players selected for eight consecutive seasons, and there's a good chance that they'll extend that streak this year.
It's no longer an AFC vs. NFC format, as the teams are selected regardless of conference for the game, which will be played the week before the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. It also gets a little more laughable each year with the number of players who are invited to the game but then pull out for health or personal reasons.
As for the Ravens' Pro Bowl candidates, you'd have to think that Forsett, Dumervil and right guard Marshal Yanda are locks. Wide receiver Steve Smith, left guard Kelechi Osemele, right tackle Rick Wagner, linebackers Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith and kicker Justin Tucker all will likely get heavy consideration as well.