Unpredictable Ravens can't take final two games for granted

Peter Schmuck's advice? Don't bet your house on the Ravens making the playoffs -- they are too unpredictable.

If this wasn't one of the craziest, mixed-up NFL seasons in recent memory, it would be easy to look at the way December is working out and believe that the football gods are finally smiling on the Ravens.

There are two regular-season games left — their playoff destiny is in their own hands — and each of their remaining opponents is mired in a quarterback crisis.

What's not to like about that? The Houston Texans are so beaten up behind center right now that they are trying to decide whether to start Thad Lewis or Case Keenum, neither of whom has taken a snap for them in a game this year. The Cleveland Browns trotted out Johnny Manziel for a huge game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday and, well, let's just say that it wasn't hard to tell he was making his first NFL start.

So, the remaining path to the postseason looks like it's going to be a cakewalk, right?

Sure, just like Sunday's game against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let's get something straight. The 2014 Ravens have delivered a few one-sided beatings to struggling teams, and they've won the first two of their must-win games in December. But they retain a certain unpredictability that makes every game an adventure.

The Jaguars, you might recall, spent all day Sunday unsuccessfully trying to pry Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs off of quarterback Blake Bortles, and yet there was a point very late in the fourth quarter when Jacksonville had the ball at midfield with a chance to put a potentially irreparable hole in the Ravens' playoff possibilities.

Yes, those Jaguars, who have won two games this season and had nothing to play for but a chance to look slightly more alive than the sleepwalking Chicago Bears did against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.

Somehow, the same Ravens team that stole a touchdown three minutes into the first quarter with a perfectly executed punt block was outscored for the next 56 minutes by a team that is tied for the most losses in the NFL.

Of course, John Harbaugh still called it a "great win," and — depending on how you parse your adjectives — it was, because any win in December when you control your own playoff destiny is pretty great.

"Anybody that would anticipate a blowout in this league is a fool, and they don't coach or play in this league,'' Harbaugh said Monday. "Because we know how tough it is every week and how good your opponent is every week and how determined and how fierce the competition is in the National Football League. So, we got exactly the game we expected."

Harbaugh can point to the unusual parity that has been on display throughout the league this season and tell his team without fear of contradiction that taking any NFL team for granted is a fool's errand, but that doesn't make it illogical to look at the margin of victory or the in-game inconsistency of the offense and wonder just who is going to show up in what quarter Sunday in Houston.

The Ravens blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes of their home game against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 30 and played some of their ugliest football of the year in the first half of their road victory over the Miami Dolphins two Sundays ago.

They bounced back with a very strong second half against a Miami team that had plenty to play for, then struggled to execute their offense for big chunks of the game against the Jaguars.

It's quite all right to wonder what the heck is going on in this nutty league, especially after a three-week period in which the previously winless Oakland Raiders sandwiched upset victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers around a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams, so Ravens fans can be forgiven for losing a little sleep thinking about what J.J. Watt and Co. might do to Joe Flacco and friends at NRG Stadium this weekend.

Who knows what the Texans will be able to do on offense? The Ravens will certainly try to give whoever starts at quarterback the Bortles treatment and prevent Houston from taking advantage of their increasingly depleted secondary. That also will be the game plan when the Browns show up at M&T Bank Stadium for the regular-season finale.

Sounds simple enough, but we're talking about the NFL, where nothing is quite as it seems.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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