Baltimore Ravens fans waking up this morning have likely seen highlights of the Cincinnati Bengals missing an opportunity to put distance between themselves and the Ravens in the AFC North after a 30-20 defeat in cold and windy Pittsburgh against the Steelers last night.
Hooray to small victories. (Though I couldn’t stomach actually rooting for the Steelers to win, just for the Bengals to lose.)
That small glimpse of hope puts the Ravens firmly in the driver’s seat of their own destiny: win the remaining three games of 2013, while Cincinnati drops their final two home games. One in which both teams face each other in Week 17. The result will be another AFC North crown and at least one home playoff game. Sounds pretty familiar.
A win tonight in Detroit does wonders for the Ravens in a very muddied AFC playoff picture with much yet to be decided.
At 8-6, the purple and black would jump ahead of the Miami Dolphins, (who beat the New England Patriots yesterday) currently sitting at 8-6, virtue of the win in Miami earlier this season.
A loss to Detroit, while not the final nail in the coffin, likely leaves the Ravens with one foot in the grave. Miami’s final two games are against division opponents, traveling to Buffalo against the Bills and playing the New York Jets at home in the season finale. Not a daunting task there.
Make no mistake, things won’t be easy tonight. The Ravens have won just one game in 2013 away from M&T Bank Stadium. A team that has used the “everyone against us” mantra in years past when playing on the road have instead just been against themselves.
The Ravens haven’t had a closing mentality on the road this season. They haven’t won a road game since defeating the Dolphins in October. They’ve suffered heartbreaking defeats in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago that could have shaped the North division and the AFC overall much differently with wins.
Playing in a loud environment at Ford Field against a high-powered offense will test this team’s mettle. The comments by safety Matt Elam towards Lions WR Calvin Johnson were unfortunate, but there are other players that can do damage to the defense as well.
In front of a national audience, can Joe Flacco and the offense look more like the unit that steamrolled their way to a Super Bowl title last season? Or will it look more like the sputtering offense we’ve seen at times in 2013?
The Lions secondary is susceptible to big chunks of yardage from offenses this season. With Dennis Pitta back roaming the middle, that could open things up downfield for Torrey Smith to take the top off the defense.
Running back Ray Rice has one 100-yard game this season and just one with over 70 yards rushing. The Lions come into this game with a stout run defense, ranked 5th in the NFL allowing just under 100 yards per game. The Ravens can have success with Rice, however, if he’s part of the equation catching the ball out of the backfield on check downs.
Getting back to the division, the Bengals, 7-4 in AFC play, are just 3-3 in their last six games. They too have home games in their last two as the Minnesota Vikings come to town and what has become tradition the last few years, an end-of-season showdown with the Ravens. But they are limping.
The Ravens know they can only control what is laid out in front of them. Go out and get wins and not worry about what Miami and Cincinnati are doing.
Tonight is a huge test, not only to see where the Ravens stand on the road against tough competition, but also set the course as they try to return to the mountain top again in 2013.