The Baltimore Ravens host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final regular season game, seeking to nail down the final playoff spot as the #6 seeded Wild Card. The game has been moved to 4:15pm and their playoff fate may actually be decided by the time they take the field. The New England Patriots are hoping for a victory in Buffalo earlier today and a Ravens loss to help them back into the playoffs. However, if you read my posting of the weekend's predictions from Saturday, I am actually predicting a Bills upset of the Pats, which automatically puts the Ravens in the playoffs regardless of what happens in our game. However, as Coach John Harbaugh has said, he's going on as if the Patriots are winning today and expects no letdown.
The Ravens will end the 2008 season in a way that virtually no one expected just a few short months ago. If you kept up with my game-by-game predictions way back this summer when I previewed the Ravens upcoming season, I actually predicted the Ravens finishing 10-6, but missing the playoffs. I may not have picked each game as they happened in reality, but still have exceeded even my bold expectations. I would definitely prefer not to have my season predicition come true, much less the not making the playoffs part, which could happen if the Pats won and the Ravens lost.
Don't worry, as the New England Patriots have a chance to become one of the few, if not the only, 11-5 team to not make the post season, and the Ravens will not let this great opportunity slip away this afternoon. No, the Ravens will not take the Jags lightly, nor lose their focus after coming this far. The Ravens will do what they have done to all the teams they've faced with losing records and that is, just win, baby! Baltimore has beaten, and badly, every team they've faced this season with a losing record. Despite their reputation of only being able to beat losers, the Ravens have done what playoff teams are supposed to do, and that is to beat the lesser teams. Jacksonville is coming to an end of a terribly disappointing season, with a 5-10 record after coming into 2008 with most people seeing them competing for the AFC South title and perhaps even a Super Bowl berth. However, they will be spending the playoffs watching them on television and while they will not back down from Baltimore, they will not have the motivation that the Ravens will have today.
Playing at home, in front of a great, loud crowd, in unusually balmy weather, the Ravens fans will go insane as the game progresses. The fans and players will smell blood and as the clock winds down in the fourth quarter, the crescendo will rise to near deafening levels. This is the last home game of the season, for if the Ravens hope to advance in the post season they will have to do it as visitors and underdogs, which is fine with them. Not garnering respect as a true Super Bowl contender has worked for them in the past (2000-01) and would be great to see it happen again. However, the task today is just to take care of business for 60 minutes against the Jaguars.
The Ravens will play their typical style of play, taking away the Jags run game, led by the elusive Maurice Jones-Drew, who will be the feature back today with the season ending injury to veteran Fred Taylor. The Ravens defense will hit him hard and often, wearing him down and forcing QB David Garrard to the air. Garrard is not a bad passer at all, but his receivers have not played their part in making him more successful. The Jags offensive line has been awful, decimated by injuries and the unfortunate shooting of lineman Richard Collier this summer. The Ravens pass rush should have a field day, chasing and harassing Garrard all game, and causing the QB to make the errors that result in the turnovers that this defense has feasted upon all season.
Offensively, the Ravens will run, run and then run the ball some more. Mixed in with the run will be enough passes to keep the Jags secondary honest and from creeping up to put eight or nine in the box. Ravens QB Joe Flacco will have Derrick Mason on the field, despite his clipped wing, which should bode well for the passing game. However, if the Pats are eliminated from the playoffs by the Blls, expect the Ravens regulars to play only a small portion of the game.
Regardless of what happens in the Pats game, the outcome here in Baltimore will not change. The Ravens have way too much on both sides of the ball, not to mention what is riding on this game, for the Jaguars to keep up with them today. The Ravens offense moves the ball effectively and controls the timeclock as it has done all season. Meanwhile the defense shuts down the Jags offense and continues its streak of creating turnovers and a short field for the offense to work with.
It's playoff time next week, folks and trust me, nobody wants to face this team, be it either the Jets, Dolphins or Patriots.