NFL commentators love to chastise teams for “looking ahead,” like it’s some sort of mortal sin. Coaches and players play into this fear and deny looking ahead fervently whenever it’s brought up. A team could be playing the reincarnation of the ’85 Bears in two weeks and would deny looking past the Colts. This dovetails alongside another NFL taboo: disrespect. Looking ahead is really just a roundabout form of disrespecting another NFL team, which is somehow okay to do openly (like stomping on a Terrible Towl or mocking the Mile High Salute), but a big no-no to do subtly (like admitting you didn’t spend all week watching Dan Orlovsky tape).
Embrace the truth: Baltimore is playoff football team. Let’s act like we’ve been there before. There’s no need to apologize for success. Lest we forget, we’ve “been there” quite a bit. In fact, this will be the 8th time in 16 tries the Ravens have tasted postseason football. There’s no need for code words, gag orders, or fears of jinxes. The regular season heavy lifting is over, with the final 25% commencing on Sunday at the Bank. The Ravens are effectively in the playoffs.
Sunday likely won’t tell us much about the 2011 Ravens. Using Football Outsiders’ DVOA team efficiency ratings, the matchup between the Ravens and the Colts is the 3rd most lopsided game on the NFL slate this season (the other two were New England and New Orleans’ contests against Indy). Don’t be surprised if it’s difficult for the Ravens to get up for this one when it’s a home game against such a crappy opponent after a stretch of three consecutive crucial games. With Cincinnati still looming and possibly vying for a Wild Card spot in week 17, if there ever were a time for a letdown game, it’s this one versus the Colts.
Do not take it as a slight against the Ravens, but it’s unlikely that they would rip off seven wins in a row heading into the postseason. As a fan, I don’t think I’d want them to. To dust off a tired notion, when any team in the NFL can hang with any other team, few teams should be expected to assert complete dominance over their schedule (generational outliers like the mid ’00s Patriots and current Packers team excluded).
Perhaps the Steeler victory last night will further inspire the Ravens to keep pace with Pittsburgh. Maybe the Ravens smell blood in the water and will be looking to really hit their stride in all phases of the game this week. The running game obviously is hitting on all cylinders, and the Colts could be the right opponent to bring the passing game up to speed. Actually, when a team is 0-12, can you really call it “blood in the water”? It’s more like 53 chewed-up floaters. Twelve teams have already gone to town on Indy and torn them to pieces. Baltimore may not feel the need to really dig in.
Obviously, this is all a mechanism for me to feel okay about the Ravens potentially laying an egg on Sunday. Who can forget 2007, when the 0-13 Dolphins hosted the Ravens almost exactly four years ago? That team was coached, if you can call it that, by the one and only Cam Cameron. The Ravens fell to a Cleo Lemon-quarterbacked Miami 22-16 in overtime, giving them their only win of the season (and potentially Cameron’s only win as an NFL head coach).
I’m not giving the Baltimore Ravens a pass on Sunday, but I won’t be shocked if they fail to maintain focus against the trainwreck that is the 2011 Colts.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com