All black jerseys this Thursday!
Oh boy, do we have a big match up this Thursday!
The Ravens will face off against their ol’ rivals, the Steelers, in what will likely shape both of their playoff chances for the rest of the year. It’s like an elimination kind of game.
Both teams will enter the game with identical 5-6 records, and they are tied with 4 additional teams that are also 5-6. All 6 teams are currently contending for the 6th and final playoff seeding. Some teams need the seeding more than others.
The San Diego Chargers, for example, are behind both Baltimore & Pittsburgh in the playoff standings (both of whom are also behind the current leader). The Chargers just happen to be in the same division as Kansas City and Denver, who both have 9-2 records. Its very unlikely that Philip Rivers & the Chargers can overcome two teams with 4 game leads (with 5 games left!) to win the division. Their only realistic shot is a wild card spot.
The Tennessee Titans, currently holders of the 6th playoff seed, could still win their division. With the Indianapolis Colts starting to look more vulnerable after losing valuable starters, Indy’s 2 game division lead doesn’t look to assured. Especially when you consider the two will play each other this Sunday.
The only other 5-6 team in the hunt is the same team the Ravens dominated on Sunday. The Jets are technically still in the playoff race, but then again so are the Browns, Bills, and Raiders at 4-7 each. It would take way too many scenarios to fall certain ways for those teams to have a shot at the playoffs. Then again, stranger things have happened.
The best chance the Ravens have for the playoffs is to simply win the rest of their games and see what happens. If anything, they could still catch up to the Bengals, who are clinging to a 2 game division lead. However, Pitt also wants to catch up to the Bengals and Cinci will have to play both of them in the last three weeks. Also the Bengals will face the Colts & Chargers during the next two weeks, who of course are still in the playoff hunt. Cincinnati could very well lose all four of those games as anything could happen.
What we do have a better handle on is knowing what surrounds this Thursday night’s (8:30pm NBC) game:
For one, the game will be at M&T Bank stadium, where the Ravens have the 3rd best home record since 2008, and its the 2nd of 3 straight home games. The Steelers have actually won 2 of the last 3 matchups in Baltimore (while the Ravens did have that 3 game win streak in Pittsburgh that was ended this year).
However, there is the big intangible surrounding the game: timing. Teams who play on Thursday at home tend to have a better advantage as they have had more time off. The Ravens have some time off between the end of Sunday’s game (approx 4:15pm) and 8:30pm on Thursday. The Steelers, however, have similar time allowances except they also have to take out time for travel and less practice time.
There is a reason why football teams generally play once a week: its physically draining. So for a team to play on the road with three days rest in between games, the challenge is more difficult for winning a game. Also, if you’ve been following the weather forecasts, the Pittsburgh area has had snow warnings while the Ravens have enjoyed the more favorable rain. Snow could play a factor in how much time is devoted for travel between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and that can affect the Steelers’ play on Thursday.
Also who knows, maybe for some reason some of the Pitt players will gorge themselves on Turkey right before the game and that would just tire them out. Then again, they could get just as tired out as they would be chasing Jacoby Jones running into the endzone.
Whatever happens on Thursday, just make sure to have a great Thanksgiving with family and friends. Good luck to you all as well as the Ravens!
Photos credit to Baltimore Ravens on Facebook