The Ravens will host the Cleveland Browns this Sunday (1pm CBS) in what is the last game of the regular season.  This season has been frustrating in many ways for our guys, but they’ve found ways to come back.

The Ravens have had trouble this year with pass defense, which is well known everywhere, and hopefully they have decided on the best possible lineup for this game. While our cornerbacks have been hurt left & right, our safeties haven’t been too productive either in picking up the slack.  As long as they aren’t allowing touchdowns, we can win.

The run game has faltered in the last two games.  Where it was in the top 5 for rushing-per-game, the Ravens have had less than 100 yards total for the past two games.  They weren’t playing top teams either; these are two disappointing AFC South teams, which itself has been a disappointing division and the only one with two teams with double digit losses.  This all could just be a sort of wall that Justin Forsett has hit, as this is the most action that he has ever seen in a whole season.  Expect to see the carries more distributed with the other running backs.

Flacco had his worst game of the season by far.  The good thing about hitting your low point: you can only do better (just ask Andy Dalton). He faced the very strong Houston pass rush and managed to be still standing with a good chance at winning the game. Now that he has seen an almost equal to our own pass rush, he can understand and rise above the new challenges.

Our offensive line has started to reach into its own depth now and struggled at first against the aforementioned pass rush.  The team had used other players during the year, especially our talented rookies, and have given them quite a learning experience going forward.

Finally, the Ravens missed their best chance at being assured a playoff seed.  Had they beaten Houston, they would likely be going to the playoffs.  Now, while that chance has been lost, they still have a sliver of an opportunity going forward.  There are two things that need to happen:

First, they need to beat the Browns.  The Browns decided to give them an easy time, even if they really didn’t want to.  They had dropped the past 4 games to ensure that they will neither go to the playoffs nor finish above .500.  They have lost their top two quarterbacks in Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel to injury.  They will be starting an undrafted rookie, Connor Shaw, who was just signed off of the practice squad.  This will be the second straight game that the Ravens will face a team that is starting their 3rd quarterback who was recently signed off of the practice squad.

Of course, the Browns will also be without receiver Josh Gordon, who the team suspended for disciplinary reasons.  He was undoubtedly one of the best receivers in the whole league last year, despite missing the first couple of games.  He hasn’t exactly gotten back to form after being suspended the first 10 games.  Still, with a rookie QB with no NFL experience playing in a game without the team’s best receiver, you got to like our odds.

Second, the Chiefs must either beat or tie the Chargers.  If you recall last year, the Chiefs-Chargers game was of extreme importance to the Steelers.  They too needed the Chiefs to win so that they could get into the playoffs.  Alas, the Steelers were just 8-8 to finish the season and the Ravens will potentially be 10-6.

This game will be harder for us as the Chiefs will be without Alex Smith at the helm. In his place will start Chase Daniel, who has 1 start in his 6 NFL seasons.  They should lean heavily on the run, and they have two talented running backs in Jamaal Charles and Kniles Davis (plus, the Chargers had just allowed an unbelievable 355 yards rushing to the 49ers).

The Chargers will likely be without their top running back Ryan Matthews and their top receiver Keenan Allen.  Plus, Phillip Rivers himself is battling through injury.  It’s unclear whether he’ll make it through the game.  The Chiefs, by the way, have a very talented pass rush and they themselves are still in the playoff hunt.  This game has the potential of something special.

That being, Alex Smith’s Chiefs have accomplished something no 8-win team has ever done: no touchdown passes to any wide receiver for the whole season.  You wonder, is Smith is holding the Chiefs back?  Chase Daniels could, potentially, be able to hit these receivers in the end zone where Smith could not.  I’m not just making up dream scenarios for our chances, but hear me out.

Remember last year with the Chicago Bears, when Jay Cutler went down with injury?  It seemed by many that their season was lost, despite Cutler not really doing much with what he had.  In comes Josh McCown, a career backup that has been in the NFL far too long.  Suddenly, the Bears are looking like playoff contenders and the offensive weapons on the team came alive.  Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett suddenly became top offensive players again.

At the start of this season, Cutler was still starting with the Bears and McCown was signed to the Buccaneers as a starter.  Neither team has had close to a winning record.  Cutler is actually deactivated for this upcoming game, as maybe the team has realized something that they should have figured out last year….

The Ravens need to just focus on this game and pay no attention to the scoreboard (the Chargers-Chiefs game is on at the same time).  The one thing that is in their power is winning the game, and that’s what they should concentrate on.  Whether or not the Ravens make it (I have more confidence this year than the end of last season), you’ve got to be happy about how things turned out.

The Ravens made it through adversity time and time again, while becoming stronger with more depth because of it.  If the Ravens make it to playoffs, look out.  I can see our pass rush becoming even more intense, as Haloti Ngata would be returning from suspension.  He has probably noticed that our pass rush has been good (if not better!) while he’s been away.  Haloti must realize that he’s got to give all he has to remain a key component in the team’s future.

Make sure to catch the game if you can.  The Ravens will be at home and they have no chance at a home playoff game, so this will be the last time we’ll see them playing in Baltimore this season.

Enjoy the game and go Ravens!!

-CW

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