When the Ravens walked off the field after their Nov. 5 loss to the Tennessee Titans, their fifth defeat in seven games dropping them to 4-5, an NFL playoff appearance seemed like a pipe dream.
Ten days later, they are being hailed by many pundits as the odds-on favorite for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. As the Ravens were enjoying their bye week, the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets lost. The Ravens will head into Sunday’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers as the AFC’s seventh seed (the top six make the playoffs).
Their offense has been among the league’s worst and they’ve only occasionally through their first nine games of the season looked like a playoff team. But assuming the second-place team in the AFC South (either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Titans) gets the first wild-card spot, who is honestly in better position than the Ravens for the second one?
The Bills, the current sixth seed with a 5-4 record, have been outscored 81-31 in back-to-back losses. They still have to play the New England Patriots twice and the Kansas Chiefs on the road.
In the eighth spot, the Raiders (4-5) are probably the most-talented team in the hunt for the second wild-card spot. They certainly have the best quarterback. However, they have games remaining against the Patriots, Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, and only the Cowboys game is a true home game.
The Dolphins, who sit ninth with a 4-5 mark, have been outscored 112-45 in dropping three consecutive games. And they still have to play the Patriots and Bills twice each, along with the Chiefs on the road.
At this point, nobody considers the Jets (4-6) and injury-riddled Houston Texans (3-6) legitimate playoff contenders, and the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos – all 3-6 teams – have probably dug themselves too big a hole.
So, while this probably doesn’t make Ravens fans feel much better about the state of the team, they have as good a shot as anybody else at this point.
Ravens in line for extra third-round pick
According to Nick Korte, who does a nice job projecting compensatory selections for overthecap.com, the Ravens are currently in line to get an extra third-round pick in the 2018 draft for the free-agent loss of right tackle Rick Wagner to the Detroit Lions.
Assuming that holds and conditions were not met for the Ravens to send a 2018 draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, that would leave the Ravens with eight picks in April’s draft, including one in each round and two in the third.
The Ravens also traded for offensive lineman Luke Bowanko before the start of the regular season, but the compensation was a 2019 seventh-round pick.
Why not claim Bennett?
By virtue of their standings, the Ravens had a better waiver claim than the New England Patriots and thus were in better position to land Martellus Bennett after the tight end was let go by the Packers last week.
It wouldn’t have been a big financial hit and the move made sense given that the Ravens are looking for more third-down and red-zone targets as evidenced by their recent pickup of tight end Gavin Escobar.
So why didn’t it happen? According to Bennett, who spoke to reporters after the Patriots’ victory over the Broncos on Sunday, a game in which the tight end had three catches for 38 yards, he instructed his agent to tell teams not to claim him because he was planning on getting shoulder surgery and retiring.
The Patriots, who benefited from Bennett’s play in their Super Bowl-winning season last year, claimed him anyway and now he’s another target for Tom Brady.
Apparently, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady did a nice sell job to get Bennett to eschew shoulder surgery for the stretch run. Nothing against John Harbaugh or Joe Flacco, but I’m guessing a sales pitch from them wouldn’t have carried the same cachet.
1. Watching how badly the Dallas Cowboys struggled without stud left tackle Tyron Smith on Sunday reinforces how important it was that the Ravens found a long-term answer at left tackle in Ronnie Stanley. I’m not saying Stanley is in Smith’s league, but he’s young and already pretty good.
2. Good to see defensive tackle Tim Jernigan get rewarded with a nice contract extension by the Eagles. The Ravens were never going to pay him that money, but it’s still fair to question whether they wouldn’t have been better off just letting him play out his rookie deal and losing him this offseason with a potential 2019 compensatory pick as the return. The Ravens got improved draft positioning in the third round for Jernigan and they used it to select defensive end Chris Wormley, who has made little impact to this point.
3. Eagles executives Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl, who were formerly in the Ravens’ scouting department, have gotten some credit for Philadelphia’s rapid rise in the NFC. The Ravens still have some good scouts, but their loss of so many quality evaluators is still the most underrated cause of the organization’s downturn. Good scouting is the backbone of successful organizations, and the Ravens have lost a lot of quality evaluators in recent years to promotions elsewhere.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
4. The release of running back-kick returner Bobby Rainey Jr., who was let go to accommodate the waiver claim of offensive tackle Andrew Donnal, suggests that Michael Campanaro is ready to return this week after missing two games with a shoulder injury.
5. Donnal, by the way, gives the Ravens nine offensive linemen. I’d suspect that one gets let go when the Ravens promote running back Danny Woodhead to the active roster.
6. For all the hand-wringing about the Ravens’ injuries, they haven’t put a player on injured reserve since defensive end Brent Urban on Sept. 27. They’ve had plenty of players miss games since, but contrary to what many Ravens fans think, other teams have actually been bit by the injury bug worse this year.
7. Linebackers coach Don Martindale is a pretty straightforward and no-nonsense coach, so his predicting last week that rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser will be a star is quite a statement.
8. It shouldn’t have taken radio comments from former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta to convince people that the team has been incredibly conservative on offense the past couple of years. But that still doesn’t absolve Flacco for falling into so many bad habits with his mechanics. As I’ve said many times, there is plenty of blame to go around on the state of the offense.
9. With most of the team healthy, the Ravens’ inactive list Sunday will probably be the most interesting it’s been all year.
10. There’s been a lot of talk about getting Bowser and Tim Williams onto the field more, and the Ravens should, but I think Matthew Judon is in line for a big second half of the season.