Keep it here on Baltimore Beatdown all through the day as we watch what happens in the early games before watching the Baltimore Ravens face the Oakland Raiders in the final game of the regular season. Use this space to post your thoughts and comments on the progression of the game in this 'Open Thread.'
The playoffs begin this afternoon for the Baltimore Ravens as they are now in a "win or else" predicament starting today at the Oakland Raiders. Thanks to the rest of the AFC contenders cooperating with us by losing just enough to allow us to be in this position to control our own destiny. You can say the Ravens are backing into the playoffs or they have earned the right to make the post season, but either way, today they stand on the brink of entering the hallowed ground for two seasons in a row for only the second time in franchise history, the first being the Super Bowl year and the following one (2000-01).
However, today's game will not be a pushover or more specifically, a rollover by the 5-10 Raiders. In front of their home fans in the final game of the Raiders season, they will want to go out with a win and to knock us out of the playoffs would just make their season a bit more tolerable. Remember, this is the same Raiders team that beat the Cincinnati Bengals here and even went into Pittsburgh and defeated the Steelers. Luckily, these are also the same Raiders who lost at Cleveland last week under their third QB of the season in Charlie Frye.
Frye has not exactly had the same positive effect on the team that previous QB, Bruce Gradkowski had in defeating those other two AFC North teams. Gradkowski is out for today's game, leaving Frye to start and former #1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell as his backup. RB Justin Fargas is doubtful, but the Raiders boast two other solid backs in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. If the Ravens can slow or stop the Raiders running game and force them to put their success on the narrow shoulders of Frye, then they can throw a variety of stunts and blitzes needed to get the turnovers to make this game a runaway victory.
Offensively, the Ravens should be able to run the ball against a defense that is underrated at home, although they do rank 27th overall (15th-pass, 27th-rush). The Ravens running attack will open the passing lanes for QB Joe Flacco to find his receivers and the recent emergence of the long lost Todd Heap has been a pleasant surprise the past two games in which he has scored twice both weeks. Flacco needs to have a solid game at a critical time as he has not played well in games in these type of critical situations. He has rolled up the bulk of his stats in games against lesser opponents, especially at home this season. On the road and in games against quality opponents, he has shown flashes of brilliance, but has fallen prey to those game changing mistakes that has plagued the team in their seven losses, all to playoff bound or challenging teams.
It would be nice to see RB Ray Rice set some team records in all-purpose yardage and continue to earn his Pro Bowl selection while wreaking havoc in Oakland's defense both rushing and receiving. I'd like to see both Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain get the rock to conserve Rice's smaller body for the playoffs and spread the "wealth" around on the ground. Likewise the same for players like Derrick Mason, so we can see more of Demetrius Williams on the receiving end of Flacco's rockets
While the Oakland Raiders do not fit into the "quality team" category that the other teams that we lost to did, they are very dangerous and this game, regardless of the opponent, definitely falls into the "critical" category. Limit the mistakes and of course that includes the ill-timed penalties that this team is embarrassingly known league-wide for committing in record numbers, and we should have every chance to emerge the victor and prepare for another game at either the Cincinnati Bengals or New England Patriots.
To me, there is no way the Ravens lay an egg, as there is way too much on the line for them to not continue to beat the teams that we have been expected to and have done all season. The Raiders will not continue to fight once they far behind by a score or two early in the game. Don't allow them to stay within striking distance, especially with the advantage they have in the kicking game, as I mentioned in a story earlier this week. Play with the intensity and urgency that this team needs to do when the playoffs start for real next week and this game should be over by halftime. Then the Ravens can actually rest their key and walking wounded in the second half as they cruise to a victory and get out of town healthy and ready for the next "season" starting next week.