Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs!

Now that the fitzfacts is (are?) back, let's ponder an important local sports question:

Q: Are the Ravens a playoff team?

A: Sure, but there are at least 12 teams still in the mix for six AFC spots, and the Ravens are in the middle to bottom of that group, so I wouldn't start brewing that Super Bowl Sunday pot of purple chili just yet. After a blazing 3-0 start, Baltimore has been inconsistent in every phase of the game, so much so that talk radio hosts must be getting a headache from the constant changes of subject from week-to-week. They pass too much, they run too much, they need to blitz more, they need to cover better, they need to stop getting penalties, the kicker must go, Paul Kruger should play, Willis McGahee should play more, it just goes on and on because every week something seems to go wrong, and the Ravens either lose a close game (four of the five losses were by 3 points or fewer), or they don't win as convincingly as they "should" (16-0 over Cleveland, with no first half touchdowns).

Four times, they have scored 30 points or more, and they rank fifth in the conference in ppg. Six times, they've held opponents under 20, and they rank sixth in the AFC in that category. But again, the inconsistency makes it very difficult to truly assess their chances and impossible to predict.

Fortunately, every other team in the conference, except the 10-0 Colts, has had similar issues. In the AFC North, the Bengals looked fearsome early on but fell apart against the hapless Raiders last week. The Steelers have weathered some tough injuries and may have quarterback problems, but they couldn't stop the Browns last week, whom the Ravens have beaten twice by a total score of 50-3.

In the East, New England's defense is going to have to prove themselves now that their coach exposed his lack of confidence in that unit against the Colts. At 5-5, Miami's best win is against the 4-6 Jets, and I don't have much faith that Rex Ryan getting more involved in the Jets' offense is going to help that team's production.

Out West, Denver's 6-0 start is in ashes, while San Diego appears poised to take the division. The Chargers are easily the best team the Ravens have beaten this year, and that game came down to the final play.

In the South, the Colts have distanced themselves from the stumbling Texans, who have lost two straight and play at Indy next. Jacksonville looks solid at 6-4, but they lost to Seattle and Tennessee, neither of who has a winning record. Speaking of the Titans, Vince Young has revived both his team and his career in the last month, but the 0-6 hole they dug themselves makes it hard to believe they can get to the playoffs.

So, the bottom line is that the Ravens have lost five games to four teams that are winning their respective divisions. Except for the game at Cincinnati, every contest has been close, so there's no reason to think they can't compete against any team they play. Taking that line of thinking (I won't call it logic) one step further, they certainly can win enough games to get to the playoffs, and if they do get there, they should have a good shot to advance.

So the answer is a definitive, absolute probably.

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