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Peter King: 2 Challenges for the Ravens to make the Super Bowl

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens have been a trendy pick to make or win the Super Bowl, especially in the Sports Illustrated and MMQB circles. While the team is definitely expected to contend given their stellar record under John Harbaugh and with Joe Flacco at the helm, the Ravens still have some kinks to work out.

King, in his column this morning pinpointed two connected challenges for the Ravens on their quest to make it to Santa Clara this February:

1. The Bengals. You’d think the Ravens are significantly better over the past few years, right? Well, in the post-season, yes. But Cincinnati and Baltimore have 40 regular-season wins apiece in the past four years. The Bengals beat the Ravens in the AFC North standings in 2013 and ’14. In their past five meetings, the Bengals are 4-1 against the Ravens and have allowed Baltimore just 18.8 points a game. What does this mean? That Baltimore hasn’t had the luxury of many home playoff games, the way New England has. And so …

2. Baltimore has to earn home-field in the playoffs. I know: Every team wants to be at home in the playoffs, but for the Ravens the home-field edge has been huge in the John Harbaugh era. Since Harbaugh took over in 2008, Baltimore is 45-11 at home and 27-29 on the road in the regular season. The Ravens have made the playoffs every year but one … and have never won home-field in the AFC since Harbaugh was hired.

While the Bengals have been a speed bump lately, I see that ending this year. While the Bengals have played the Ravens tough recently and come out on top a high percentage of the time, I see that as a result of the Bengals keying on the run game and the Ravens playcalling being too conservative early in games. I see that trend ending with Trestman, because his MO is the passing game. The Ravens almost came back both times against the Bengals, with the first matchup being lost last minute by the secondary and the second being lost because of a flop and subsequent bogus PI call against the Ravens. The Ravens were successful moving the ball with their pass game late in both games last year, and I see them relying on that and taking care of business this year against Cincinatti.

And while any team would be lucky to have home field in the playoffs, coming from a division as hard as the AFC North makes that hard to do with regularity. It is not just the Ravens who have had trouble getting more than 1 home game in the playoffs, it is the entire division. However, the AFC East and AFC West are not the cakewalks they used to be, with Miami, Buffalo and the Jets all likely fielding top 15 defenses in the East, and the Chiefs and Chargers both formidable in the West. Not to mention that 'January Joe' has made his reputation while setting records as the most successful road playoff QB in history. A few home games wouldn't hurt, but it won't stop the team either from being successful....