The Ravens are back in the playoffs again to much of our delight.  They managed to have all the chips fall into the right places in order to get the 6th and final seed of the tournament.  Their game vs the Browns was far from perfect, but that 4th quarter more than made up for the last 7 quarters.

The question on everyone’s mind is: are they able to compete?  The Ravens may seem to be way over their heads, especially now that they have to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh, where they’ve never won in the playoffs, and also taking into consideration the terrible loss to Pitt in their last meeting in Pittsburgh.  This game seems, to most, the last game of the year for our Ravens.

You know what?  The same was said when we were facing Manning’s Broncos two years ago in the playoffs.  Throughout the game, I’m sure every Raven fan was thinking, “I know Flacco can win, I know that he has won before, but I don’t know about this time…”

Same thoughts must have been running through all of our heads (mine especially) when the Ravens faced the Patriots in New England during the 2009 season playoffs.  It was probably the only game ever that I had the least amount of confidence in our guys winning, and yet they won.

Flacco has that postseason magic and the Ravens are traditionally fantastic in the postseason (yes, I know this is the 19th year of existence and I said “traditionally”). Flacco has gotten better, personally, every year that he’s in the league.  Mainly fantasy geeks are the ones who criticize Flacco the most, since he’s not the most consistent in stats and has either lost or won several games unexpectedly.

Now that we’re in the postseason, fantasy football has no bearing on the perceived quality of games. Coincidence or not, this is generally about the time of year that the sports media writes more favorably about Joe.  When his stats and fantasy impact no longer matter, he’s suddenly considered an elite quarterback again due to all of the things he at which he excels.

I’m thoroughly convinced that both the offense and defense coordinators hold back on using a lot of plays during the regular season.  It could be a key to how the Ravens are so successful in the postseason.  If you recall during our recent Super Bowl run, the Ravens decided to run completely different schemes as opposed to the regular season. Suddenly, the Ravens were in four wide receiver sets out of the shotgun formation and going no-huddle very often in the second half.  That being much more different than their usual two receiver, one tight end, half back and full back look during the 2012 season.

I haven’t seen many end arounds, screens, or even a five receiver set yet in the season. You already know that the Ravens have plenty of receivers on the roster to field five of them at a time.  We may just see these kinds of looks on Saturday (8:15pm NBC).  Be on the lookout for odd formations on the Ravens part.  Don’t forget the defense either, as they may just surprise the Steelers with a 4-3 look.

We have two bits of luck that help our run defense this week.  First is that Ngata is back after sitting the last four weeks with a suspension.  The other is that star running back LeVeon Bell is likely out for this game.

Bell has been a big surprise this year, especially where fantasy football is concerned.  He was neck and neck with Demarco Murray of the Cowboys for top running back this year in rushing yards, receiving yards, and touchdowns.  With his likely absence for the game, the Steelers will end up becoming more one dimensional, and that could either benefit or hurt the Ravens on pass defense.

Then again, the weather reports for the game indicate a 100% possibility of rain during the game.  The grass in Heinz Field is real grass, it’s used by many different organizations, and is well regarded as the worst in the NFL.  Wet games are good for running, not passing, as the ball can get slippery and harder to catch.  I see Justin Forsett having a much better game than Ben.

Should the Ravens get past Pittsburgh, they will go up to New England to face the Patriots in the divisional round.  I do like the Ravens chances this year, as I keep seeing similarities between them and the 2011 New York Giants.  Those Giants barely qualified for the playoffs until the last week of the season and weren’t viewed by many as deserving a playoff spot.  They went and surprised everyone with a Super Bowl win with Eli getting his second ring, once again over a seemingly unbeatable Patriots team.

The regular season records matter only for getting into the playoffs.  Once you’re there, every game is an elimination game.  Make sure to watch and support our Ravens as they try to make it back to the Super Bowl.

Go Ravens and Happy New Year!

-CW

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