Monday, November 30, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 12 -- Ravens Back in Playoff Picture

It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Ravens did what they had to do, secure a win against their arch rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A field goal in overtime did the trick. Surely the local talk shows tomorrow will be jammed with fussy fans quick to find fault in some aspects of the game’s execution. Still, what’s most important is the win and second it did not create any major injuries.

Had the Ravens lost, their hopes of advancing to the playoffs would have essentially been over. Falling to 5-6 with three teams ahead of them and three teams sharing that same mediocre mark, their ability to advance would have become largely out of their hands. Now, they’re almost in there. Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh all share 6-5 records. Baltimore has the edge on tie-breakers over Jacksonville and Pittsburgh but, ooh, it’s just by a whisker! Denver remains a game up with a 7-4 record, but many feel Denver is in a state of free fall having been overachievers with their brilliant start.

So how do things shape up for the Ravens and their primary wild card competition?

Here’s the road ahead for these four teams:

Denver Broncos
Kansas City (away)
Indianapolis (away)
Oakland (home)
Philadelphia (away)
Kansas City (home)

Kansas City and Oakland are bottom feeders but both have pulled significant upsets in their limited wins.

Two of their three remaining road games are against playoff contenders not the least of which is Indianapolis going for the perfect season.

Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay (away) Monday Night Football
Detroit Lions (home)
Chicago (home)
Pittsburgh (away)
Oakland (away)

Detroit and Oakland are miserable teams that the Ravens should master with ease. Chicago is a mediocre 4-7 team. They must win these games, period.

Their two toughest games against playoff contenders are on the road. Green Bay is a Monday night game. Pittsburgh won’t be as easy next time as they rule Heinz field. Big Ben and Polamalu could surely be healthy in four weeks.

Bottom Line: Run the table and they’re in.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston (home)
Miami (home)
Indianapolis (home)
New England (away)
Cleveland (away)

Cleveland is probably the worst team in the NFL right now. It’s too their advantage to face Houston and Miami at home. While the Colts will be big favorites to beat them, at least they face them in Jacksonville.

With both Indy and New England on the schedule, New England, in Foxboro on December 27th, Jacksonville could have the toughest schedule of all the wild card contenders.

Bottom Line:
The Jags have no margin for error and must be healthy and execute to near perfection to beat the two teams that will probably have first round byes in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Oakland (home)
Cleveland (away)
Green Bay (home)
Baltimore (home)
Miami (away)

Oakland and Cleveland are two very weak teams. Their remaining game against division rival, Baltimore, is at home.

Green Bay and Baltimore could be facing do-or-die consequences playing the Steelers. While beating Cleveland should be a given, the Browns will face the Steelers, the city’s long standing rival on the chilly shores of Lake Erie. The Browns have nothing to lose and upsetting the Steelers would be the high point of a terrible season.

Bottom Line:
Their remaining schedule is roughly even with the Ravens with a slight advantage with the remaining home schedule being more favorable. It’s shaping up to where the winner of their game versus Baltimore could decide who is in and who is out.

Remarkably, all four wild card contenders have almost dead even scheduled teams yet to play. Jacksonville probably has the toughest schedule, but Denver and Baltimore face their toughest competition on the road. That Pittsburgh faces both Green Bay and Baltimore at home could be their advantage. Results could turn on which teams remain healthiest and late season weather in the Northeast and Midwest.

One final word, it’s pretty safe to call this race almost exclusively a wild card race as the first place teams generally have a sustainable margin over second place. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are two games behind Cincinnati in the North.

Indianapolis has already secured the South. New England at 7-3 leading Miami, who at 5-6 are pretty much out of wild card competition have the East nailed down. San Diego only has a one game advantage over Denver. San Diego visits Cleveland and Dallas, hosts Dallas, visits Tennessee and concludes hosting Washington. Therefore, the AFC West is really the only open division race with San Diego having a slight advantage to maintain their advantage.

For the division races, New England must defeat the undefeated New Orleans Saints to maintain pace with Cincinnati and San Diego atop their divisions. The battle for the second seed, the second bye remains a three team race as Indy flirts with perfection.
One final note for Ravens fans....
The long range forecast for Green Bay, Wisconsin calls for a mostly cloudy day with highs in the mid 30's and lows in the mid 20's, chilly compared to anything folks from Crab City have faced so far, but far more forgiving that what the "Frozen Tundra" is capable of dishing out. Meanwhile, Baltimore will enjoy a sunny day of 50 degrees and in the 40's at night.

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