Reporting Mark Viviano
With two home victories in a five-day span (without Ray Lewis playing in either game), the Ravens have turned the tide of opinion that followed their disappointing loss at Seattle. Beating the Bengals and 49ers re-establishes the Ravens atop the AFC and positions them for what looks like a sweep to the finish line as they’ll be favorites in their five remaining games. A 13-3 regular season record would tie the 2006 Ravens for the franchise best and set up Baltimore for the home field playoff advantage the team and its fans have long desired.
It was my feeling (and prediction) from the start that the Ravens will go unbeaten at home during the regular season and that’s looking quite likely with remaining home dates against two of the worst teams in the NFL- Indianapolis and Cleveland. And I’m sure some fearful Ravens fans will nervously counter thoughts of a sweep to the finish by reminding me that their team has lost road games at Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle this season- so those up-coming games at Cleveland, San Diego and Cincinnati aren’t certain victories. Agreed, to a degree- that’s why they play the games. But this team actually knows how and when to turn it on when the time is right, and for them- the December push is the time to be real serious. Terrell Suggs said it himself prior to the win over San Francisco when he stated that they know that December games are the ones that count. (Fact is- those quirky road losses in September, October and November counted, too, and keep the Ravens from being in the Packers’ position of pondering a perfect season!).
With five games remaining in the regular season, there are just two things that I see stopping the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Ravens themselves. Despite having beaten Pittsburgh twice during the regular season, the Steelers are the one team in the AFC that matches up well with Baltimore in terms of talent, balance and toughness. This is a match-up in which home field is especially critical for the Ravens come playoff time. I, for one, hope to see these two meet in the post-season for it would make for the most dramatic football theater since the 2006 playoff match-up with the Colts (more on that in a moment).
And as far as my thought that other than the Steelers, the only thing that could stop the Ravens is the Ravens themselves: they are the best team in the AFC and probably the second best team in the NFL behind Green Bay. The most outstanding aspect of the Ravens is their relentless and at times dominating defense. That’s the group that will pave the way to a Super Bowl. And driving the car along that road is a proven, playoff-tested QB in Joe Flacco, one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL in RB Ray Rice, a stable of reliable receivers and a veteran offensive line. The Ravens have veteran leadership up and down their roster, abundant playoff experience and a top-notch coaching staff (save your Cam Cameron comments for later).
Back to the last time the Ravens played at home in the post-season, and the painful memory of the loss to the Colts in January 2007. Here’s the good news: Peyton Manning isn’t around to beat the Ravens anymore. Yes, he owns Baltimore but not when he’s on the sideline watching. There are two QB’s out there they have a legit shot at the Ravens in January: Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens have already beaten Brady and did so in the playoffs in New England, plus- his team doesn’t play good defense any more so what’s to fear? That leaves us with Big Ben and the Steelers. A possible playoff showdown between the Ravens and their rivals on a cold January day in Baltimore. Can you tell how much I hope to see that? I don’t root for teams, I root for good stories. Come on, Ravens fans: what better way to make it to the Super Bowl than like that?
posted by Mark Viviano