It still may be premature, but we can't avoid it much longer. The playoff scenerios are beginning to take shape in each devision and the contenders are separating from the pretenders. While most divisions, other than the AFC South and NFC West, still remain available for the taking (I'd probably add the NFC East to that, but not until after Sunday!), the Wild Card slots are totally up for grabs.
As far as the Ravens, while it is possible to make the playoffs out of the AFC North as a Wild Card, I'd prefer to leave that challenge to the Steelers and not desire to go on the road for three straight games in order to make the Super Bowl. So therefore, what will it take to make the playoffs and more importantly, win the AFC North?
I posted some thoughts about this as a comment on another FanPost on this site and feel pretty strong about my opinions (gee, really!?). To me it comes down to one basic premise and two specific games. The basic premise of any playoff contender is that you must win the games you are supposed to win. That means you beat the teams below you in the standings, whether it be at home or away. You have to win most, if not all of your remaining home games and do the same on the road, and not let yourself lay an egg and subject yourself to an upset.
When you look at the Ravens remaining schedule, you see the following games that, based on their play in 2008, the Ravens should absolutely expect to win if they want to stay in contention for the division title. Those games are at Cincinnati, home against the Redskins, Steelers and Jaguars. Of the other three games that will be close contests against tough teams, we play at the Giants, host the Eagles and visit Dallas. I fully expect us to win at least one of those, and perhaps we can steal one of the other two.
However, as I said earlier, it all comes down to two specific games. Of course that is totally based on the Ravens holding true to what I wrote in the preceeding paragraph about the must wins. The two specific games I keep referring to are the Eagles and Steelers. If we win those two and then take care of business in the other "sure things" (yes, I know there are no "sure things" in the NFL, but I'm putting those games down as wins, as they certainly are "must" wins if we hope to take the division.).
Look at it this way: We win at Cincy, defeat the Redskins and Jags at home, but lose at New York and Dallas (Romo should be back by then and they will be tough at home, especially playing their last game at old Dallas Stadium on national TV on a Saturday night). We will then be sitting at 9-5, and that leaves the Eagles and Steelers games to decide the AFC North. A win over the Eagles plus evening things up with Pittsburgh will put us at 11-5, which to me will be enough for not only the AFC North title, but a first round bye and at least one home playoff game. The way the Steelers and Big Ben have played lately (1-TD, 8-INT last three games), I just can't see them finishing in a 11-5 tie with us, especially when looking at their remaining schedule. The only thing we have to understand is that if we lose a game we're "supposed" to win, then we must win a game that we're "supposed" to lose.
Of course, we can get that all started with an upset victory over the Giants this Sunday at the Meadowlands! What say you?