Reporting Mark Viviano
The Ravens are a very good football team. The Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning are a very bad team. The Colts 0-and-13 record doesn’t lie. The Ravens weren’t great in beating Indy 24-10, but the outcome was never in doubt. The difference in talent between the teams was evident from the start. We can probably stop the talk about the Ravens “struggles” against lesser teams. Yes, they laid eggs in Jacksonville and Seattle in October and November respectively. (The loss at Tennessee is less of an upset that thought at the time- the Titans are a pretty good team). The Ravens could end up regretting the bad losses as home field is determined for the post-season. But Baltimore’s also soundly beaten the Rams in St. Louis, the Browns in Cleveland and now the Colts in Baltimore and neither outcome was ever in doubt. The Ravens can see the finish line and they know what’s at stake in these late season games. I don’t see any more “let downs” for the Ravens with remaining games at San Diego, home against Cleveland and at Cincinnati.
The more I watch the NFL this season, the better I feel about the Ravens because I don’t see much competition out there. In the AFC, I see the Ravens as very good and Pittsburgh not far behind. New England is dangerous because of Tom Brady but beatable because of a suspect defense. Kudos to the Texans for playing well despite losing so many front-line players, but their success is limited. The lack of a legit team in Indy really changes the landscape. The Tim Tebow Broncos are a neat story but would you have any doubt the Ravens would take care of them (or Oakland) in a playoff game in Baltimore? I see allot of average to below-average teams in the usual NFL pig pile. The AFC could/should come down to Ravens and Steelers in a playoff game in Baltimore. I hope it does.
A trip to San Diego is next for the Ravens while the rival Steelers will also be in California to play the 49ers in San Francisco. It’s a big weekend out west for the AFC North. The Chargers looked like quitting dogs with their 6-game losing streak but they’ve shown life lately with two convincing wins leading up to their game with Baltimore. Meanwhile- the Ravens are hoping for a Harbaugh Helper with John’s brother Jim Harbaugh coaching the Niners against the Steelers. The big story this week will be the status of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger and center Markise Pouncey. Both suffered ankle injuries in the Steelers Thursday night win over Cleveland. The loss of Big Ben would devastate the Steelers and their chances.
Speaking of that, injuries matter in the NFL. I need to make that point after Baltimore Sun writer Mike Preston appealed to his brethren in the media to stop talking about injuries and their effect on teams. C’mon, Mike! You see how bad the Colts are without Manning and you know what the loss of Roethlisberger would do to the Steelers. Of course it matters. Should the teams harp on the who’s not playing and dwell on them? Of course not, but they’re the playing professionals and coaches whose job it is to work around those injuries. Our job as writers and analysts is to offer perspective that includes the recognition of strengths and weaknesses. Injuries to front-line QB’s in the NFL cause significant weaknesses. Sometimes they can be overcome and that becomes a story in itself: Houston’s the first team in history to win 3 straight games with 3 different starting QB’s. It’s a story and a worthwhile one. Interesting to note that the Ravens haven’t lost since Ray Lewis went down with his toe injury and the Colts haven’t won since Manning’s been out. Can we agree that one of those positions and players is more replaceable than the other?
Finally, I’m not a gambler but I couldn’t help but notice the classic “Vegas Touchdown” scored by the Colts on the final play of the game against the Ravens. The Vegas line on the game was Ravens by 16 1/2 points. The Colts trailed by 21 but drove down the field and expertly worked the clock to score a meaningless touchdown with no time remaining. Meaningless in terms of the outcome of the game, but not for gamblers who saw the Colts cover the spread on the final play. How and why fans gamble on sports I’ll never understand. I get the excitement that it brings to otherwise mundane situations, but the thought of having hard-earned money on the line for something you have no control over has no appeal to me. It is classified as a disease.
posted by Mark Viviano