The Ravens are in. However, they couldn’t have done it in a less impressive fashion. They’ve lost their last 3 games and are in complete free-fall. Despite these troubles, though, they have made the playoffs and will likely be the division winner.
The only way for Baltimore to not win the division is if they lose their final two games and Cincinnati wins their final two; Week 17 features these two teams facing off. The defending champion New York Giants come to town this week and have their own playoff race to worry about. The Ravens are probably the better team on paper, but counting out Eli Manning this time of year is stupid.
As for their postseason outlook, it doesn’t look good. The Ravens aren’t playing well at all. They don’t know who they are on offense anymore. Joe Flacco struggled against the Broncos and his pick-6 inside the red zone just before half time was a game-changing mistake. Ray Rice got 12 carries last Sunday. You have one of the best running backs in the NFL and you choose to let a mediocre quarterback and receivers attempt 40 passes in the game.
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They do know who they are on defense; unfortunately, the problem is they know they aren’t very good. They rank in the bottom third of the NFL in both pass and rush defense and have given up more than 30 in consecutive games. If the Ravens want to win a game in the postseason they need to get back to their roots. Give Ray Rice the ball. As I said last week, Joe Flacco isn’t the answer to their offensive woes. If they keep trying to force him into being Drew Brees, they’ll be one and done in the playoffs.
The Bengals are in great shape. Gone is the month of October in which they began their 5 game losing streak. The Bengals have won 5 of their last 6 and if they can win their next two they are in. In fact, depending on what the Giants and Ravens outcome is, they could be playing for the division title in Week 17. But first thing's first, the Bengals have to go into Pittsburgh this week. They are only a game up on the Steelers and they do not own the tiebreaker. What it boils down to is if they win this week, they’re in. If they lose, they’ll need the Browns to upset the Steelers in Week 17 to even have a chance.
It’s going to be tough to go into the Steel City and beat Big Ben and the Steelers but the Bengals can do it. Their defense hasn’t surrendered more than 20 points in 5 consecutive weeks and the Steelers aren’t exactly clicking right now. I think it’s going to be an old fashioned defense and rushing battle. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been in beast-mode for the last month and if the Bengals are going to win they need him to continue his great play.
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After two disappointing weeks in a row, the Steelers still control their own destiny. If they can beat the Bengals this week and the Browns next week they’ll make the playoffs. If they lose this week, they’re done. If they win this week and lose to the Browns next week, they’ll need the Bengals to lose. For all intents and purposes though, this week is the season for the Steelers. In all likelihood a victory against the Bengals will get them in.
The Steelers aren’t playing good football. After an inspiring win on the road with Charlie Batch at the helm, Big Ben has come in and gotten beat two weeks in a row. The Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger to be Big Ben. They need him to convert on 3rd down and lead the charge. The running back carousel continues to turn but Roethlisberger needs to be their rock. They face a stout Bengals defense this week and they aren’t going to get anything easy. They’ll win if they can put together some long drives and convert on third down.