The Ravens have reached their bye week with a record of 6-4, which perhaps unjustly—but definitely unambiguously—has them tied for last place in the AFC North. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, this is the latest in the season that every team in one division has been at least two games over .500.
But in the NFL, circumstances can change quickly: if the other three teams in the division lose this week, the Ravens will find themselves tied for first place. Regardless of what happens, Baltimore has some work to do if it's going to make it to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX. (That's 49 for the Roman numerically-challenged.)
With six games left in the regular season, let's take a moment to review the highlights, lowlights, and consider the future.
We're No. 11!
Both Baltimore's offense and its defense are ranked 11th (out of 32 teams) in the NFL. QB Joe Flacco's best game came on Oct. 12, when he threw five touchdown passes in a little over a quarter in a rout of hapless Tampa Bay. The defense has been inconsistent, especially in the secondary. Case in point: It held Pittsburgh to six points in Week 2, but surrendered 43 points to those same Steelers on Nov. 2.
A two-point win over Cleveland and two close losses to Cincinnati shows how razor thin the margin is between making the playoffs or playing golf after the regular season ends.
Best Served Cold
Revenge. New wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. swore he'd exact it on his former team, and when the Carolina Panthers came to town on Sept. 28, he made good on his promise. Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens' win.
Running back Justin Forsett has been another welcome addition. An obscure Jacksonville Jaguar (aren't they all?) last season, when he rushed for a total of 31 yards, he was thrust into a starting role following Ray Rice's suspension and subsequent release. He's responded in a big way, racking up 721 yards already. Mark Dec. 14 on your calendar; I'm sure Forsett has. That's when the Jaguars visit Baltimore.
Pittsburgh remains the Ravens' archrival, and the two games between the two were, as always, quite memorable. When the Steelers visited M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 11, the Ravens were reeling. Not only had they lost their opener to the Bengals, the Ray Rice situation had exploded onto the national consciousness the Monday after. In the midst of the firestorm the team rallied to a 26-6 victory in which Flacco threw two touchdown passes.
About two months later, the script was flipped when the Ravens travelled to Heinz Field for a nationally televised Sunday night game. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes in the Steelers' 43-23 rout. The loss prompted the Ravens to make wholesale changes in their secondary.
John Harbaugh Speaks—Were We Supposed to Listen?
When Baltimore prepared to play Tennessee a few days after Roethlisberger shredded their defense, the coach jokingly said of Titans QB Zach Mettenberger, “He's No. 7 and his last name ends in 'berger,' so there's a similarity there with a guy we just played." Not quite. The Ravens held the Titans and their rookie quarterback to seven points in a 21-7 win.
After that Tennessee victory, the Steelers were on Harbaugh's mind yet again. “That team beat us last week…then they went and got their ass kicked this week," he told his team in the locker room. CBS's cameras captured the speech and broadcast his comments, much to the entire organization's ire. The network quickly apologized.
The three teams (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh) that have beat the Ravens own a winning percentage of .607 (17-10-1). The six Baltimore has defeated are 21-30-1 (a .403 winning percentage). At .600 percent, the Ravens are right in the middle.
Baltimore's six remaining opponents own a record of 25-30 (.454), which bodes well for their chances the rest of the way. Its biggest more challenging test may be a Monday night trip to New Orleans on Nov. 24 to play the Saints, who are always tough at the Superdome. Playoff fates, and perhaps even the division title, could be decided on the final Sunday of the season, when the Cleveland Browns come to town.
Bookmakers in Vegas have the Ravens listed as 40-1 to win the Super Bowl. Twelve teams have better odds, including the favored Denver Broncos at 7-2.