The Ravens’ 24-16 win at Cincinnati wraps up a 12-4 season for Baltimore, an AFC North Division title and the number-2 seed in the AFC playoffs (New England number-1). The Ravens get a first-round bye and will host a game Sunday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. The Ravens’ opponent will be either Houston, Pittsburgh or Denver. The only team the Ravens cannot play in the 2nd round is Cincinnati because if the Bengals win at Houston, then Cincinnati (as the number-6 seed) would play at New England. If Houston beats the Bengals, the Texans will play in Baltimore. A Bengals win would leave the winner of Pittsburgh-Denver to come to Baltimore to face the Ravens.
The Ravens are in the post-season for the 4th straight season and that’s the longest current playoff streak in the NFL.
Twelve teams make the playoffs and against the playoff field the Ravens are unbeaten: 6-0. 2 wins vs. Pittsburgh, 2 wins vs. Cincinnati, and victories vs. Houston and San Francisco. Green Bay is also 6-0 vs. the playoff field. Next best are New Orleans (5-1) and San Francisco (4-1). The worst vs. the playoff qualifiers is Cincinnati: 0-7. The least tested vs. the field is New England with just 3 games against playoff qualifiers: losses to Pittsburgh and Giants, win vs. Denver.
The numbers I just laid out may or may not have anything to do with what transpires when the playoffs begin on Saturday. But I’ve been saying all season long that I consider the Ravens the top contender in the AFC and there’s nothing that’s changed my opinion about Baltimore’s good chance of reaching Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. The only road game the Ravens would have to play to get there would be at New England for the AFC title. Baltimore’s already won a playoff game at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots have the worst defense in all the NFL. Tom Brady and the Pats’ offense is electric, but Ray Rice and the Ravens offense would have little to fear. I’d still like to see a Ravens-Steelers playoff rematch which could happen in either the 2nd round or the AFC title game and IF it does, the game will be played in Baltimore. That’s what I personally am hoping for– what would be better?
The Ravens are a good team in a league in which there aren’t many good teams. I laugh whenever I hear a team referred to as “elite.” To me, the “elite” teams were the Steelers of the 1970s, the 49ers of the ‘80s and Cowboys of the ‘90s. Those teams were dominant and truly elite. These days, to make the playoffs, a team doesn’t have to be great or win pretty. To make the playoffs, an NFL team need only be a little bit better than the pile of mediocre-to-worse pile of teams that make up most of the league. All teams are flawed, unbalanced and injured to varying degrees. The Ravens happen to be well-balanced and though flawed, they are less flawed than the rest. I liken it to a beauty contest on a pig farm: all of the contestants are somewhat unattractive, but someone eventually has to be declared a winner. It could very well be the Ravens. It should be an entertaining tournament.