The Baltimore Ravens currently sit at 7-5 heading into a crucial Monday Night Football matchup against possibly their biggest rival, the New England Patriots.
While this isn’t necessarily what certain people may refer to as a “must win” matchup, a win in this spot would be huge for a Ravens squad that is now on the playoff fringes after losing their first place ranking within the AFC North to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They sit at the 8th spot in the AFC right now behind the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos who are both 8-5 respectively. The general sense that has surrounded the Ravens playoff chances in 2016 has been that their only hope to make it into the tournament will be to keep up with the Steelers and to win the division.
However, recent events open up a new window of possibilities for the Ravens to make the postseason. Namely, it was an unexpected loss that the Broncos suffered on Sunday, and another unexpected loss that the Dolphins suffered; only the Dolphins loss didn’t occur within the win/loss column. Rather, it unfortunately occurred to their roster as quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was quietly playing the best football of his career went down for the rest of 2016 with a sprained ACL and MCL.
It’s a tough situation for Tannehill who looked to be proving himself as a serviceable franchise quarterback under the tutelage of head coach Adam Gase, and it’s an even tougher situation for Miami who will now have to turn to backup quarterback Matt Moore. Moore, who hasn’t seen much extended in-game action since 2011, will now be pressed into action in two away games at Buffalo and the Jets and will close out the regular season at home to New England.
These are three potentially winnable games as the Bills are in a bit of a tailspin, the Jets are a disaster, and the Patriots may have nothing to play for in that spot. However, it will all come down to Moore, and if he can’t prove to be a competent replacement to Tannehill, the Ravens have to be considered favorites for the wild card over the Dolphins, especially considering they just waxed them to claim the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Moving back to the Broncos, logic would seem to dictate that they should be the favorites for the sixth wild card spot with the Oakland Raiders or the Kansas City Chiefs all but guaranteed to take the fifth. However, this is simply looking at the Broncos in a vacuum with their strong defense and above average quarterback, Trevor Siemian. When looking at their upcoming schedule, Denver faces what is likely the toughest remaining schedule out of any team in the league.
They start things out by hosting the Patriots on December 18th, and while they always play the Pats tough in Mile High Stadium, they have to be considered home underdogs in that game considering some of their recent offensive struggles. The following week, they travel to Kansas City to play a Chiefs team that has come out of seemingly nowhere to be considered favorites in a rugged AFC West division. They close out the season at home against the Raiders, who have shown the ability to beat anyone this season, including Denver.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see the well-coached Broncos win all three of these games, but after losing to Tennessee, it is fair to question if Denver has the mettle to sweep their schedule and punch their ticket to the 2016 playoffs. If they don’t, a great opportunity presents itself for the Ravens to make it in regardless of whether or not they win the division.
Prior to the season, this final stretch of the schedule looked to be a murderer’s row for Baltimore, and many fans had the mindset that the Ravens needed to head into it with a record better than 7-5 at this point in time.
However, it doesn’t necessarily look as insurmountable as it did a few weeks ago. The Patriots will be a very tough matchup, but after them, there doesn’t look to be a game on the Ravens schedule that can’t be won.
Philadelphia has hit a rough patch after a promising start, and the Ravens should be favored over them at M&T Bank Stadium next week. After that, they head to Pittsburgh to face a surging Steelers team in a Christmas day matchup that will likely decide the division, and then head to Cincinnati to play a Bengals team who is down, but should never be taken lightly.
Neither of those final two division games will be easy for the Purple and Black, but they will likely need to win at least one of them if they expect to play deep into January. If the Ravens want to prove that they belong there, they couldn’t ask for a much better test.