Ravens news, notes and opinions on the playoff outlook and more

It's almost been taken as a foregone conclusion that the Ravens' only path to the playoffs is through outlasting the Pittsburgh Steelers and winning the AFC North.

That's still the most obvious route into the postseason. However, Sunday's dominating victory over the Miami Dolphins keeps open wild-card possibilities.


The Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) currently possess the first wild-card spot, and it's hard to imagine them falling out of the postseason with only four games to play.

The Denver Broncos (8-4) are in the second wild-card position. Their final four games include road matchups against the Tennessee Titans and Chiefs, and home games versus the New England Patriots and the division-leading Oakland Raiders. That's an extremely tough remaining schedule.


The Dolphins (7-5) still have to play the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Patriots. That's not easy either, although the Patriots might not have anything to play for in Week 17. If the Ravens finish 3-1 and one of those victories is over the Steelers, they'll win the AFC North. If they lose to the Steelers and finish 9-7, a wild card is not completely out of the question. However, they'll need the Broncos to falter down the stretch.

Run/pass balance: I've heard from quite a few people who were concerned that the Ravens threw the ball 50 times and had just 17 designed runs in the destruction of the Dolphins.

Yes, I know, they put up 496 yards of total offense and scored 38 points and there was still some griping.

Look, you stay with what works. In studying film, the Ravens believed they had clear mismatches against the Dolphins in the middle of the field, and they were right. They came out throwing, the Dolphins couldn't stop it, so the Ravens kept throwing. Why would you do anything else when you are ripping off chunks of yardage on nearly every pass?

Each game will be different and the Ravens will need to run the ball successfully to make the playoffs. But you do what you need to do to win games, and the Ravens have learned over the years that when Flacco is hot, you might as well just ride the hot hand.

Flip-flop analysis: I get that the NFL is a week-to-weak league, but did I really hear Rodney Harrison on NBC's Football Night in America on Sunday single out the Ravens as the biggest threat to the Patriots and Oakland Raiders in the AFC?

It was Harrison who a week earlier called kicker Justin Tucker the best player on the Ravens and said "you can't depend on your kicker to make 50-plus yard field goals every week to win football games." It was also Harrison who has pointed out on multiple occasions that it's problematic that the Ravens' top playmaker (Steve Smith Sr.) is a 37-year-old coming off of a major surgery. Harrison must have been really impressed with the Ravens' victory over the Dolphins.

Pitta up there with the best: Not only does Dennis Pitta lead the Ravens in receptions, but his 61 catches are tied with the Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen for the second most in the NFL among NFL tight ends. The Chiefs' Travis Kelce leads all tight ends with 65 receptions. Much has been said and written about Pitta's comeback, but it really is remarkable what he's been able to do this year.

To IR or not?: Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't have much in the way of injury updates Monday, saying only that rookie guard Alex Lewis remains a ways away from returning with his high ankle sprain.

He was noncommittal about the status of running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and tight end Crockett Gillmore, who are both dealing with bad hamstrings. Taliaferro has missed three straight games and Gillmore has been sidelined for five in a row.

A lot of people have asked why the Ravens don't just put either Taliaferro or Gillmore on injured reserve. If they needed a roster spot, they probably would. But the reality is the Ravens are a pretty healthy team for this late in the year and they don't have a pressing need at any position. You might as well allow Gillmore and Taliaferro the time to recover. The Ravens are an injury at tight end or running back away from possibly needing to rely on either one of those guys.

A fourth round to remember: The criticism that general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn't drafted enough top-end talent in recent years is legitimate.


It's far too early to judge his 2016 draft class, but it's possible that we'll be looking back at the team's fourth round this year as a significant moment for the franchise.

In that round, the Ravens grabbed cornerback Tavon Young, wide receiver Chris Moore, Lewis, defensive tackle Willie Henry and running back Kenneth Dixon.

Young is already a starter and has been arguably the team's most impactful rookie. Lewis held his own in starting eight of the first nine games before hurting his ankle. Dixon is part of a two-headed rushing tandem that seems to be gaining momentum. Moore has two touchdowns on special teams while Henry is on injured reserve. The general belief is if you can get three starters out of every draft, you're going to be in pretty good shape. The Ravens might have found three starters in the fourth round alone.

Undrafted production: Speaking of rookies, defensive tackle Michael Pierce has obviously emerged as the jewel of the Ravens' undrafted free agent class. However, inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has emerged as a factor on special teams. Onwuasor, who opened some eyes and ticked off some teammates with his physicality in training camp, leads the Ravens with nine special teams tackles despite spending the first five weeks on the practice squad. It's too early to suggest that Onwuasor will follow in the footsteps of Zachary Orr and go from undrafted special teams standout into defensive starter. But he's clearly making an impact in his current role.

Catching up with Torrey: And to finish up, one quick note on a popular former Raven: San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith was held without a catch in his team's loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday. In 27 games with the 49ers over the past two seasons, Smith was has been held to two catches or fewer nine times. In four seasons with the Ravens, spanning 64 regular-season games, that happened 13 times. You have to wonder if Smith is entering his final month as a member of the 49ers.

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