We'll have plenty of time to talk about this in the weeks ahead, but it dawned on me Sunday just how many difficult decisions owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens' front office will have to make this offseason. Some answers might become self evident over the next several weeks, but right now, the picture is pretty murky. What do they do with Joe Flacco, whose recent troubling play has reignited the debate on whether the Ravens should make a long-term commitment to him as their franchise quarterback? Do they re-sign safety Ed Reed, assuming that he wants to return? Is it a given that they bring back linebacker Ray Lewis and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who will both carry salary cap hits of more than $7 million next season? What about other free agents like linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams? If the Ravens' fade continues, it might be a little easier for Bisciotti and company to do a little housecleaning in some areas and start anew. But either way, I'd imagine that there will be plenty of angst over some of the calls that they have to make after the end of the season.
You have to appreciate coach John Harbaugh standing up for his players, but I don't agree with his opinion that Boldin's block on Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, which resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, was "perfectly legal." To me, and I watched it on tape several times, I thought it was late and away from the play. Harris had essentially pulled up already because Flacco was heading out of bounds several yards in front of him. It also was a borderline block in the back. I suspect the NFL will have something to say about the play when they hand out fines later this week. Boldin, by the way, leads the entire team in penalties, which is pretty unusual for a wide receiver. He's also gotten called twice recently for late blocks, something teams accused him of doing earlier this season. Back then, he wasn't getting called for them, but now he is.
If you were wondering if the Ravens were at a significant disadvantage playing the Manning brothers back-to-back because Peyton would have an opportunity to fill Eli in about their defensive tendencies, it's worth pointing out that it didn't hurt the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were beaten by Peyton's Broncos on Nov. 4. A week later, they destroyed Eli's Giants, 31-13. In that game, Eli Manning was 29 of 46 for 215 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Peyton and Eli are known for trading notes all the time, but I doubt that will matter much come Sunday.
I've been asked several times about who I feel has been the most disappointing Raven defensively, and the names that are usually brought up in conversation are defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Both players made more of an impact last year in their rookie seasons and have been slowed by injuries this year. Another guy who I'd have to think that the Ravens expected more from is nose tackle Terrence Cody. There was a lot of talk in training camp about how this was sort of a make-or-break year for Cody, and then he was beat out by undrafted free agent Ma'ake Kemoeatu for his starting job. Cody has 18 tackles and no sacks this season in 13 games and the website Pro Football Focus gave him the lowest marks for his performance against the Broncos. The Ravens are just 26th in the NFL against the run, and Cody is hardly the only one to blame for that, but the team certainly could use him to elevate his game.
There is no use speculating about injuries, but it probably wasn't a good sign last week that Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and safety Bernard Pollard weren't able to practice at all. Those guys are considered two of the toughest on the team and you would think that if they thought there was any chance that they could have played against the Broncos, they would have at least been out practicing one of the days last week. Both of their absences during the game were glaring. If they don't play this week and the Ravens are able to figure out a way to beat the Giants and clinch the AFC North, there's probably no point bringing either back for the regular-season finale against the Bengals. Rest them for the first round of the playoffs.
And while we're on the topic of injured players, the Ravens technically do not have to make a decision on the status of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who has been practicing the past couple of weeks despite being on the injured reserve list with a designation to return. Per league rules, a player in Lewis' situation can practice for a period not to exceed 21 days before the Ravens either have to activate him to the 53-man roster or commit to him being on injured reserve the rest of the season. Lewis started practicing on Dec. 5, so if the Ravens don't activate him this week in time for the Giants' game – they'd have to do that by Saturday – they'd have to do it next week or he wouldn't be eligible to return for the playoffs.
And finally, I'm sure we'll hear most of the week about how the Giants are the more desperate team because they essentially have to win to stay in the playoff hunt, unlike the Ravens, who have clinched no worse than a wild-card berth. I understand the sentiment, but if this week isn't a must-win for the Ravens, then next Sunday's game against the Bengals certainly is. Regardless of what happens in the Bengals-Steelers game this week, the Ravens still need a win to take the division. If the Ravens lose out and either the Bengals and Steelers win out, the Ravens would most likely start their playoff run at either Denver or New England. Obviously wanting to avoid that scenario, I'd say the Ravens are pretty desperate for one win.