Does that surprise you? The NFL is entering week 9 (which started off with 22-20 Dolphins win over the Bengals) and the Ravens are currently 3-4.
Having the team under .500 this late in the season is a new experience for both John Harbaugh & Joe Flacco. Normally for the playoffs, a team needs a record around 10-6 to qualify. This means the Ravens have to finish the season with about a 7-2 record the rest of the way. Of course they still have to play the Lions, the Bengals (twice), and also the Bears (oh my!).
However, and this is good to note, the Ravens are only a game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot. Not only that, but thanks to the Bengals loss and a possible win on Sunday, the Ravens would be 1 1/2 games out of first place in the AFC North. Thankfully with the ineptitude from the AFC this year, the only sure lock for a Wild Card spot is either Kansas City or Denver. That leaves the Ravens muddled together with the Jets, Titans, Dolphins, and Raiders. All 5 teams have 4 losses each. All are behind the Chargers whom are 4-3 after coming off a bye and facing a Washington team on the East Coast (1pm EST is 10am PST, plus Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday as well).
We don’t necessarily have to root for our beltway neighbors on Sunday, as the Chargers face the Broncos the following week and still have another matchup with them along with 2 games with the Chiefs. From the 5 mentioned Chargers matchups, they could easily lose at least 4 of those games!
[Although, side note here: the Chargers actually have the feeling of a “team of destiny” this year. 1) They have finally got a new coach after Norv Turner overstayed his welcome and may be playing smarter football. Don’t forget that a few years ago that they were ranked 1st in offense & 1st in defense but missed the playoffs. 2) They have the one linebacker who seems destined to be better than experts thought. This also being the same linebacker I have previously ranted about wanting the Ravens to draft. 3) The past 3 or 4 years, probably 4, there’s been an odd streak going on: the team who plays the Eagles’ home opener won the Super Bowl. This continued last year for the Ravens, who did in fact play the Eagles in week 2 in Philadelphia. This season, the Chargers won their first game of the season against the Eagles, also in week 2…]
Although it pains me to bring up streaks in the Ravens favor (which I rather do after games instead of before), the Ravens do have two streaks going their way. One is of course the 11 game win streak against the Browns, whom neither Flacco nor Harbaugh have ever lost to. I brought this up around week 2 and thankfully the Ravens were able to rally in the second half of that game to win. This time around, the Ravens are away at Cleveland and the Browns have three differences in their offense.
First of all, they’re starting their third different quarterback. The Browns have the unwanted reputation for starting many different quarterbacks since they’ve returned to the league in 1999. Teams that retain the same starting players (and coaches!) for seasons are much more stable and can execute more efficiently. Alex Smith was viewed for his first six years as a failed 1st overall pick. (He didn’t play in 2008, but his record from 2005-2010 was only 19-31 in 50 games) However the 49ers didn’t give up on him and in years 7 & 8 with a new head coach but retaining most of the same players, he became a consistent winner & made it to two straight NFC Championship games. Now in his 9th year in the league, he’s led the Chiefs to an 8-0 record so far. The Browns only wish they could get this kind of production, and almost did from Brian Hoyer during his brief stint.
The 2nd change this time around is that they have traded their former starting running back. Their running back, the 3rd overall pick from the 2012 draft, was highly touted to be one of the next greats. Although his production never seemed to get anywhere, it doesn’t seem to have changed even after switching teams. Their starting running back is now good ol’ Willis McGahee, who the Ravens had for a couple years. This may be more of a positive for us (we’re familiar with his running style) than for them (McGahee isn’t as familiar with our defensive players now).
The last change, which is a big one, is the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon. He was suspended for the first 2 games of the year, and is by and large their best receiver. Great receivers can make mediocre quarterbacks become Pro Bowl worthy (See Culpepper’s Moss years [2000-2004], McNabb’s Owens years [2004 & 2005], Cassel’s lone good season with NE, and Andy Dalton’s current career with A.J. Green). Gordon is still young, but he has spaced himself from the rest of his teammates with his skill. However, whether Jason Campbell can have the same amount of success as other aforementioned quarterbacks is hard to predict Remember that he lost his job in Washington after a few years despite being about average but not terrible. Then he also lost his job in Oakland after a few years despite providing some spark to the franchise, which hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2002 when they lost the Super Bowl.
Campbell, who I’ve always admired for his persistence to win all the while going to franchises lacking talent, may be a great candidate to break out offensively if you don’t consider his age. He, like Alex Smith, was drafted in 2005 and but he will be starting for a fourth franchise (he started 1 game and played a second for Chicago last year) in another different offensive scheme with different players. His career may take on a similar path as did QBs Kerry Collins and Brad Johnson, and for his sake the latter.
For this Sunday, his focus should just be on the game at hand, and the same goes to the Ravens. There is no better time for our guys to get a winning streak going than right now. The Ravens just made it out of a difficult stretch with no “easy” teams, and now they get to play one of their favorite foes. They’ll like make streak go up to 12-0. Plus, that 2nd streak I mentioned? That’s a 5-0 streak for the Ravens following a bye week, and they already had an impressive post bye week record before Harbaugh came aboard.
Don’t forget that the Ravens will be angry after a last second loss against Pitt. Plus wanting to prove to the league that their offense & defense is much better. Plus they’re again reveling in being the underdog for making the playoffs. Plus they have yet to hit their stride, so we can see a late season surge. Plus for the last 5 seasons, the Ravens have gone through similar odd losing cycles somewhere in their season that are totally different from the rest of the games in their season. Even losing 4 of 5 games to end the season didn’t stop them from winning the Super Bowl!
So remember, the Ravens started 9-2 with a worse defense and a more unpredictable offense last year, so why can’t the Ravens go at least 7-2 to finish the regular season? There is no need to worry about our guys, they’ll be just fine. Be sure to enjoy the Ravens face off with the Browns this Sunday at 1pm (CBS).
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