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The Baltimore Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts, 24-10, on Nov. 8. That win brought their record to 6-2, with five victories coming by 14 or more points. The only losses were to the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, the two best teams in the NFL.
The thought of them missing the playoffs wasn’t on anyone’s mind.
The NFL moves fast. In two weeks, the Ravens have taken on two losses — they lost two games the entire 2019 regular season — and suddenly Baltimore is far from a postseason lock. If the season ended today, the Raiders would get the final wild-card spot in the AFC and the 6-4 Ravens would be out.
And next up, the Ravens face the 10-0 Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving. They’ll do so after having some positive COVID-19 tests, including running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram, on Monday.
The good news for the Ravens is their schedule after the Steelers has a lot of winnable games:
Week 13: vs. Cowboys
Week 14: at Browns
Week 15: vs. Jaguars
Week 16: vs. Giants
Week 17: at Bengals
The bad news is the Ravens probably can’t afford to lose more than once in that stretch, if they can’t beat the Steelers on Thursday night. A 9-7 record doesn’t seem safe in a very good AFC.
How did we get to this point? The Ravens are one of the most stable franchises in the NFL, were one of the Super Bowl favorites coming into the season, most of their key players were back and they were off to a solid start at 6-2.
It’s stunning to have a conversation about the Ravens missing the playoffs.
The offense is the biggest culprit. Whether you want to blame coordinator Greg Roman for becoming too stale, Lamar Jackson’s regression or the loss of two great linemen Marshal Yanda (retirement) and Ronnie Stanley (injury), it all adds up. The Ravens went from first and second in the NFL in points scored and yardage last season to 12th and 24th this season.
When Baltimore lost to New England two weeks ago and the Titans on Sunday, it exposed some of those problems. On Sunday, the defense had its share of the blame. The Ravens allowed Derrick Henry to rush for 133 yards including a winning run in overtime. They gave up 30 points at home and couldn’t get a stop at the end of the fourth quarter or overtime. And the offense couldn’t come through with a winning drive in overtime.
“It looked like that team wanted it more than us,” Jackson said. “They were playing physical. When we went up, I felt like we just took our foot off the gas. But we just have to keep it going for the team.”
Even if the Ravens make the playoffs with that soft schedule coming up, it’s time to wonder if they can make a postseason run. They have already had two one-and-done playoff exits since Jackson took over at quarterback. The Ravens would likely have to go on the road three straight games to make a Super Bowl, and even if home-field advantage is severely diminished, that’s not easy. It’s also getting harder to believe their offense can put together three or four straight playoff-winning performances, especially in a strong AFC field.
Before the season we thought a Thanksgiving showdown between the Steelers and Ravens could be a crucial game in the AFC North. The division race is practically over. It still seems like a crucial game, but for the Ravens to get their suddenly shaky season back on track.
Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 11:
32. New York Jets (0-10, Last Week: 32)
The Jets’ next five games come against teams with winning records. Only a major upset is going to keep them from being 0-15 going into the season finale at New England.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9, LW: 30)
Jake Luton’s line on Sunday: 16 of 37, 151 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions and a 15.5 passer rating. Gardner Minshew II’s return from a thumb injury is nearing, and that should give the Jaguars a better chance to compete on offense. Though, at this point, losing out and being in the mix for Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields is better for the franchise.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1, LW: 23)
Joe Burrow’s injury is horrible for everyone, and the extra damage aside from the ACL should make anyone nervous about when he’ll be back to normal. Nothing against Ryan Finley, but the Bengals aren’t going to be very good or much fun to watch the rest of this season.
29. Dallas Cowboys (3-7, LW: 31)
You’ll hear a lot about whether it’s better to win a bad division or lose and get a better draft pick. Unless you’re talking about the top pick or two, the answer is always a division title. Even if you’re winning a dreadful division, it’s still an accomplishment to make the playoffs. And the Cowboys can still win a division and host a playoff game.
28. Detroit Lions (4-6, LW: 25)
It has to kill Lions ownership inside that so many Thanksgivings turn into three hours of people complaining about the Lions always hosting games no matter what and a dissection of what’s wrong with the franchise. Following a shutout loss to the Panthers, get ready to hear a lot of talk about Matt Patricia’s future on Thursday.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1, LW: 26)
Longtime Eagles writer Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia said what many are thinking after the loss to the Browns: It’s time to bench Carson Wentz. If the Eagles weren’t in first place of the NFC East, I think they would entertain the idea. It just goes against the nature of coaches and the league as a whole to bench a quarterback when you’re in first place, even if that shouldn’t matter.
26. Houston Texans (3-7, LW: 29)
Deshaun Watson had 344 yards and two touchdowns in a win. He rushed for a score, too. If you are into judging quarterbacks based on their “record,” watch Watson play and try to convince anyone he’s a 3-7 quarterback.
25. Washington Football Team (3-7, LW: 27)
It’s not pretty, but whoever wins the Thanksgiving game between Washington and Dallas will take over first place in the NFC East by percentage points over the Eagles. At least there’s something on the line, unlike a bad Texans-Lions opener on Thanksgiving.
24. Atlanta Falcons (3-7, LW: 19)
It’s hard to believe that an offense with Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones could fail to score a touchdown. The Saints defense played well, but it’s not an elite group. The Falcons offense has been maddening this season.
23. Denver Broncos (4-6, LW: 28)
The Broncos gave Phillip Lindsay 16 carries and Melvin Gordon got 15. Both had more than 80 yards rushing. If the Broncos can get in a game script that allows that, it’s great for them. That turns Drew Lock into a secondary piece of the puzzle, and that can cut down on the forced mistakes.
22. New York Giants (3-7, LW: 22)
The Giants get the Bengals without Joe Burrow this week. The Giants have a real shot to win the division, but they need to take advantage of the rare games they should win, like this week.
21. New England Patriots (4-6, LW: 17)
If there was any hope for the Patriots making things interesting this season, they had to beat a 2-7 Texans team on Sunday. Now that the season is pretty much done, what happens next with Cam Newton is interesting. Do the Patriots take a look at Jarrett Stidham? Newton is on just a one-year deal.
20. Carolina Panthers (4-7, LW: 24)
The P.J. Walker story is what the NFL is all about. He was undersized and undrafted in 2017. He never got a shot to appear in an NFL game so he went to the XFL, was the league’s breakout star and got a chance with the Panthers. He started Sunday and helped Carolina to a win. Even if he never gets another shot to start, he’ll always have that afternoon to remember.
19. San Francisco 49ers (4-6, LW: 20)
Kyle Shanahan said he expects Jimmy Garoppolo to be the 49ers’ starter in 2021, but what else is he going to say? The 49ers don’t ask Garoppolo to do much. Garoppolo mostly throws short, and the playmakers make the rest happen. They can find a cheaper option for that.
18. Minnesota Vikings (4-6, LW: 16)
Kirk Cousins threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions (140.1 passer rating), and still lost to a 2-7 Cowboys team at home. That’s really, really hard to do. According to Football Perspective, that’s just the fifth time in NFL history a quarterback has posted a rating of at least 140 with 30 pass attempts and his team lost.
17. Chicago Bears (5-5, LW: 18)
When asked on Monday, Matt Nagy said the Bears are “working through” injuries to Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t matter much which one starts.
16. Los Angeles Chargers (3-7, LW: 21)
Keenan Allen had 16 catches for 145 yards on Sunday. He’s up to 81-835-6 on the season and is a legitimate candidate for All-Pro honors.
15. Miami Dolphins (6-4, LW: 13)
Benching Tua Tagovailoa shouldn’t be that big of a deal. He was struggling badly and getting hit a lot. Brian Flores was more worried about winning a game than protecting the feelings of his rookie quarterback. That’s not a bad thing. Tua will be fine.
14. Arizona Cardinals (6-4, LW: 9)
Everyone loves Larry Fitzgerald and he’s heading to the Hall of Fame. But he is averaging a career-low 7.8 yards per target, yet led Arizona with 10 targets last week in a loss at Seattle. He had 62 yards on those targets. He hasn’t scored or had a catch longer than 18 yards this season, yet he’s playing 80.3 percent of Arizona’s offensive snaps. There comes a time when a team has to make hard decisions about a legend within the franchise.
13. Baltimore Ravens (6-4, LW: 7)
One big problem with the Ravens offense is Marquise Brown’s disappearance. Over the last four games, Brown has six catches for 55 yards on 17 targets. He was shut out on Sunday. He’s the Ravens’ best playmaker outside of Lamar Jackson, and they have not been able to get him the ball.
12. Cleveland Browns (7-3, LW: 15)
Olivier Vernon came up huge for the Browns with Myles Garrett out, with three sacks including a safety. At full strength, the Browns defensive line is one of the best in the NFL.
11. Las Vegas Raiders (6-4, LW: 11)
Moral victories won’t help the Raiders make the playoffs in a loaded AFC but realistically, beating the Chiefs once this season and taking them to the brink on Sunday night is a big deal. Nothing is guaranteed season-to-season, but the Raiders look like they’re a team that will be a factor for a few years.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4, LW: 5)
Tom Brady is having the best season we’ve ever seen by a 43-year-old NFL player, and it’s not close. But there have been times when Brady struggles and it’s a reminder, he is 43 and it’s not always going to be smooth sailing.
9. Seattle Seahawks (7-3, LW: 14)
The Seahawks’ next four games are at Eagles, vs. Giants, vs. Jets, at Washington. Don’t be surprised if you look at the standings in mid-December and see that Seattle is 11-3.
8. Buffalo Bills (7-3, LW: 10)
The Dolphins loss was a big one for the Bills, who are back to having some breathing room in the division. The Bills want to make sure a Week 17 game against the Dolphins doesn’t have any impact on the division race.
7. Los Angeles Rams (7-3, LW: 8)
The Rams got an impressive win at Tampa Bay. They had a great offensive game plan, and Jared Goff executed it well against a tough defense. The Rams defense played very well yet again. Los Angeles didn’t flinch when Goff’s bad interception led to Tampa Bay tying the game in the fourth quarter. This is a team that is peaking.
6. Tennessee Titans (7-3, LW: 12)
We’ll look back on the Titans’ win on Sunday as being one of the games that shaped the playoff picture. Derrick Henry’s overtime run to win the game was the highlight, but A.J. Brown’s touchdown to give the Titans the lead late in regulation is one of the plays of the year, given the circumstance.
5. Green Bay Packers (7-3, LW: 3)
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has become the target of Packers fans’ ire. But Sunday’s loss was a team effort: After building a 28-14 halftime lead, the Packers scored just three points and that was on a last-second field goal to send the game to overtime. And the defense allowed the Colts to complete way too many passes in big spots due to soft coverage. In a competitive NFC, that loss could loom large — remember, there’s only one bye available per conference.
4. Indianapolis Colts (7-3, LW: 6)
There were a lot of positives on Sunday. Jonathan Taylor had 90 yards, and that doesn’t count 32 yards and a touchdown taken away on holding penalties. The Colts had 11 players catch a pass, and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. made another big play on a touchdown. The defense allowed only a field goal after halftime and forced a turnover that won the game. This ranking feels a little high, but who behind the Colts do you really trust?
3. New Orleans Saints (8-2, LW: 4)
I’ve been skeptical of Taysom Hill being a full-time quarterback, but he looked good on Sunday running and throwing. This is Sean Payton’s heat check: If he can win with Hill, a totally different quarterback than Drew Brees, he knows what it will mean for his reputation.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0, LW: 2)
Kind of strange: The Steelers can’t clinch the division by beating Baltimore on Thursday, because it’s Cleveland that wouldn’t yet be eliminated from the race. The Ravens are officially eliminated from the AFC North race with a loss this week. Safe to say Pittsburgh will be celebrating a division title soon though.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1, LW: 1)
We really don’t need to have MVP conversations anymore. Patrick Mahomes is the MVP until further notice. All other discussions regarding other players being in the race are just time-wasters.
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