Path To The Playoffs: Will Baltimore Make It?

Path To The Playoffs: Will Baltimore Make It?

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The Baltimore Ravens are in a different position this season with five games left than they were in 2015.  At this point last year, Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith Sr., and Terrell Suggs, among others others were placed on Injured Reserve.  The season was essentially lost with a 4-7 record and almost half of the starting roster injured.

Baltimore is currently gearing up for a post-season run with a 6-5 record, as well as boasting four-straight divisional wins.  The team is currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff picture.  Injuries are down this season compared to 2015, and the Ravens are playing with confidence.

Going into Week Thirteen, both this season and last, Baltimore’s opponent is/was the Miami Dolphins.  Last year the Dolphins won that matchup 15-13 in what was Baltimore’s first game without Joe Flacco since 2007.

This year, the Dolphins come to Baltimore the hottest team in the AFC riding a six-game win streak.

What does Baltimore need to do in each game from here on out to win the division?

Miami Dolphins, Week Thirteen

  • Shut down Jay Ajayi.  The second-year back had a three-week awakening this season (weeks 5-7) when he rushed for 529 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Since then his numbers have dropped, but he is still the heartbeat of this offense.  Shutting him down forces Tannehill to win the game with his arm, something he has had trouble doing against Baltimore.  Baltimore should be able to score enough against this defense to outpace Tannehill’s offense.

New England Patriots, Week Fourteen

  • New England is by far Baltimore’s toughest opponent left on the schedule, hot streak or not.  Being that it is in Gillette Stadium on a Monday night makes this game even more important for Baltimore.  The Ravens know the nation will be watching, and expecting them to be trounced in the process.  But who has a better chance of beating the Patriots in Foxborough than the Ravens?  The answer: not many teams.  The defense needs to get to Tom Brady, the traditional blueprint to beat the Patriots.  At this point, Suggs is playing great football and Elvis Dumervil had his first sack of the season last week.  Look for their success to dictate the tempo of this game.

Philadelphia Eagles, Week Fifteen

  • The Eagles are currently not the team that started off 3-0 on a hot streak.  Since then, the team has gone 2-6, with a paltry 0-5 record on the road since Week Four.  The defense, which performed like a playoff caliber defense early on, has had problems as of late.  They have allowed 26.8 points/game in their six losses.  The Baltimore defense feels more than enough confident it can force rookie signal caller Carson Wentz into making mistakes.  From there it is up to the offense to put points up on Philadelphia’s defense, who will be playing on the road.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Week Sixteen

  • Following three tough out-of-division games the Ravens finish the season on the road during their last two divisional matchups.  Depending on how Baltimore does in those previous three matchups dictates whether the divisional matchups will be “must win” games.  More than likely, though, this game could decide the fate of the AFC North.  Both teams own a 6-5 record, but Baltimore has the edge because of a 21-14 victory over Pittsburgh in Week Nine.  Baltimore had Ben Roethlisberger’s number in their first matchup, but seemingly pumped the brakes when leading 21-0.  Being that this game is on the road for Baltimore, it will probably be another back-and-forth contest that is common in this rivalry.  If the Ravens do find themselves with a lead, they must run away with it this time.

Cincinnati Bengals, Week Seventeen

  • Baltimore’s game plan against Cincinnati should be the same as the first matchup: stop Jeremy Hill, and shut down Tyler Eifert.  Without A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, these are the Bengals’ top two weapons on offense.  Stop them, and Andy Dalton will struggle to put points on the board.  From there, Flacco and Justin Tucker proved this past Sunday that they can score enough to stump this disappointing Bengals squad.  Ending the season on a positive note could be good for a Baltimore team with young talent and the chance to win the AFC North for the first time in four years.

Overall Opinion

  • Baltimore’s winning formula has common elements in each game from here on out.  The defense, especially the front seven, must play dominating football as it has been all year.  With an aggressive run defense and pass rush, things will come easier for a secondary that is close to returning No. 1 Cornerback Jimmy Smith.  The offense needs to step up in the final quarter of the year.  Tucker and the defense can’t be expected to bail them out of every game.  They need to take over a game or two in these final five to prove they can make a splash in the post season.