The Baltimore Ravens sit at 6-4, with six games left in the 2008 season. Four of those six are at home, which is a huge advantage for this team. What needs to happen for the Ravens to be reasonably assured of making the playoffs? Most people would agree that the AFC North will probably not have a Wild Card slot, so it comes down to either the Ravens or Steelers taking the division title. The tough news is that it looks like the magic number for wins necessary to win the division is eleven. The good news is that 11-5 should not only win the AFC North, but will probably earn the winner a first round bye in the playoffs as well, and at least one home playoff game. I'm figuring this because the Titans will end up with the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the winner of the AFC West (most likely Denver) will probably have a 10-6 or even a 9-7 record (I wouldn't be surprised if they still win the division going 8-8!). That leaves the AFC North and East to fight for the second seed and the other first round bye. The Jets and Pats, along with the surprising Dolphins, are fighting each other for that division crown and my guess is that they will beat each other up enough to end up with the winner finishing at 10-6 and the Wild Card at 10-6 as well, though losing the title on a tie breaker.
So what do the Ravens need to do game by game to finish as the AFC North champs? If they are at 6-4 now, then they need to go 5-1 down the stretch to end up at 11-5. Sounds like a daunting task, but not if you look at it game by game. Here is the Ravens remaining schedule:
Nov. 23 - Eagles (home)
Nov. 30 - Bengals (away)
Dec. 7 - Redskins (home)
Dec. 14 - Steelers (home)
Dec. 20 - Cowboys (away)
Dec. 28 - Jaguars (home)
First things first, the Ravens need to start right by defending their home turf this weekend by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles. Next they go on the road to Cincinnati for a rematch of the Ravens opening day 17-10 victory. That should be looked at as a winable game. The next two home games are critical, as our hated neighbors from DC come to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time ever and us Baltimoreans would like nothing better than sending the 'skins back down Interstate 95 with their tails between their legs. We must absolutely win the revenge rematch with the Steelers, as if everything holds true up to that point, the Pittsburgh game will essentially be for the division title. Coming into the Steelers rematch, the Ravens will have won three in a row to stand at 9-4. During the same stretch the Steelers will host the Bengals, visit New England, and host the Cowboys. The Steelers can reasonably expect to win the first and last of those three, and lose at the Patriots. Therefore, we would go into the game tied with them in the AFC North. A win would place us at 10-4, with the Steelers one game behind at 9-5. The next two games find the Ravens at Dallas and finish up hosting Jacksonville. The good news is that we can afford to split those two games, as winning at Dallas will be a tough one because the Cowboys will be fighting for their playoff lives and this game will close out the Cowboys stadium, as they move into a billion dollar new home in 2009. The better news is that the Steelers finish up at Tennessee, who should be able to put a beat down on the Steelers, and then they host the Browns. If we split our last two, we finish at 11-5 and the Steelers do the same to finish at 10-6. Perhaps the Steelers do actually make the playoffs as a Wild Card, but winning three post season games in a row on the road is an unlikely task. If When the Ravens finish the season as division champs and earn a first round bye, we host at least one playoff game and if the Titans are upset, then we might actually even host the AFC Championship Game!
Yeah, yeah, go on and say I'm dreaming because of what happened last week in New Jersey. That was against the best team in the league on their home turf. Put us in our own crib and I'll take on all challengers. Right now, all I want is for us to do what we do best this Sunday. Play smash mouth football, take away Brian Westbrook's ability to trun the ball and then force Donovan McNabb into making the same mistakes he made last weekend in Cincinnati. That's all, not too much to ask for or expect this Sunday. I sure as hell will be there in my seats carrying a big stick and screaming like a banshee (thank you very much for that line, Brian Billick!)