Baltimore Ravens

Expect anything in the Ravens' final three games

By this time of the season a team consistently displays several characteristics that will propel them into the playoffs, but the Ravens have shown only two.

They have a good front seven on defense and Justin Tucker, the best field goal kicker in the NFL. That's it.


So with three games remaining in the regular season and the Ravens possibly needing to win all three, it's hard to predict what they might do. They could win two or they could lose two. The NFL is full of average teams and the Ravens are right there in the middle.

"This is at least where you want to be," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "... The opportunity to control your own fate with victory is really what you hope to work for at this time of the season. Two teams in our division have that — us and the Steelers, and we're both fighting for that division championship right now. And the Bengals are still in it. Mathematically, they have a shot, too."


"We have our work cut out for us, but all that becomes focus on the task at hand, which is to win the next game. We have to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, a very good Philadelphia Eagle team, in our stadium on Sunday afternoon to make it count."

Forget the coach's hype; the Eagles (5-8) aren't very good. After getting off to a 3-0 start, they have lost six of their last seven, including four in a row. There should be a lot of confidence as far as the Ravens beating Philadelphia, but there isn't.

Few fans were sold on the Ravens before Monday night's game, and even fewer after the 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. There might be more of a buzz if the Ravens had an offense to complement their defensive front, but this offense doesn't have an identity.

They can't run the ball because they won't. Their hurry-up offense runs in slow mode, and while most teams in the NFL stress a vertical passing game, the Ravens have gone horizontal. They can't beat a good quarterback, and the coaching staff isn't good enough to compensate for the lack of impact players.

It's a mess, but the Ravens are still 7-6. If they beat the Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, they are definitely in the playoffs. Can that happen? Yes. Will it happen? It's impossible to tell unless you've been sipping the purple Kool-Aid.

The Ravens will beat the Eagles. If they don't, they don't deserve to go to the playoffs. Philadelphia has a first-year head coach in Doug Pederson and a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. They don't have a big-name offensive player that scares any team, and their once-hot defense has cooled recently.

Go ahead; put this one in the win column. As for the other two, there are just so many intangibles.

The Ravens have no fear of playing the Steelers at home, in Pittsburgh or even inside a Walmart. They have won six of the last seven, including four in a row.


Pittsburgh can still intimidate players at Heinz Field, like they did against New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham two weeks ago. They held, grabbed and harassed Beckham all over the field, and he spent more time complaining than finding holes in the defense. Ravens receiver Steve Smith — and even Mike Wallace, because he would be playing against his former team — would have punched someone.

The Ravens can also shut down Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, and Pittsburgh might be a little beat up from playing the Bengals the week before the Ravens. But the player who scares me is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin turned him into a game-manager in the first meeting with the Ravens because Roethlisberger was recovering from a knee injury. But he unleashed him in the fourth quarter. The Steelers can't use the same conservative game plan on Christmas Day in Pittsburgh — not after seeing what Eli Manning, Derek Carr and Tom Brady have done to the Ravens secondary.

It has to be bombs away, especially if Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith hasn't recovered from an ankle injury.

That's why I dub Tomlin the X-factor against the Ravens. Harbaugh is in his head like Bill Belichick is in Harbaugh's. Tomlin always does something stupid against the Ravens, and that's why he tried to muscle up last time against one of the best run defenses in the NFL.

He can't be that stupid again, can he?


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By the time the Ravens play Cincinnati in the season finale, the Bengals will be an interesting team. Once they are eliminated from playoff contention, they might quit because of some of the high-profile players on that roster.

But they'll play the Ravens tough at home, at least for a half. If they get behind, they'll turn it in early and head for the SUV's and sports cars that have been running outside in the team parking lot. If the game is close, they'll be competitive to the finish.

Another key in this game will be the health of Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who returned to practice this week. If he plays, he gives that offense another dimension. The Ravens can't contain him even with Smith, and it will be even worse if Smith doesn't play.

There are just so many things to consider in these final three games. If the Ravens were dominant in more areas, it wouldn't be hard to figure out. But they aren't, so it's a toss-up as to how they'll finish.

On any given Sunday, they can be as good as most teams and a bad as anyone. You never know which Ravens team will show up, which is why they have been so inconsistent and so average.