John Harbaugh is right: it’s now a six-game season for our beloved Ravens, leaders of the AFC North with a 5-5 record.
After digesting a close loss to the Cowboys, one of the NFL’s premier teams, the attention shifts to the Bengals, their third divisional game in four weeks.
“We’re getting ready for Cincinnati – divisional game, a very important game for us,” stated Harbaugh on Monday afternoon. “We look at the rest of the season as a six-game season. In some ways, this is like our opener.
“All eyes are really looking forward to become the best team we can be over the next six games.”
With six games remaining however, it’s likely we’ve seen who the Ravens are and there is no fixing them at this point in the season.
They rank number two in the league in penalties (84, tied with Tennessee), boast a rush offense that’s one of the league’s worst (27) behind an offensive line that’s been riddled with injuries, and the poor play of Joe Flacco remains an issue.
They are no closer to pinpointing the reason why the struggles continue than they were two weeks ago or even four weeks ago. Although the problems are staring him in the face, we all know that Harbs will never say a negative thing about his players publicly.
So what exactly should we expect as the team heads down the stretch?
“I think that’s exactly it,” said Harbaugh when asked about his team’s confidence knowing they still have a chance for a postseason appearance. “Exactly what you’re saying is exactly the way we need to look at it. If you look at the big picture, you just work hard to do as well as you can and be as good as you can.
“Confidence is a big part of that, and confidence is reflected, a lot of times, in success. You do things well, you build confidence. It’s that simple, but also, you work hard. That’s builds confidence as well. Our guys have done that, and they have also had a lot of success at times. They have done a lot of good things, especially our defense and our special teams.”
Yes, the defense and special teams have performed very admirably, coach. The elephant in the room, however, is that offense. How about that?
“I feel like our offense is improving,” he said. “I feel like we’re getting better at the things we’re trying to do right now. It’s all about the next game. It’s all about getting ready to play the next game and going out there and playing as well as we can. I don’t think we need to ask our guys, ‘Please, be confident.’ Our guys are professional football players. They know they’re good football players. We believe in ourselves. We believe in one another. We know that everything is right in front of us.”
Perhaps the best thing the Ravens have going for them right now is that the AFC North is a dumpster fire. Historically one of the NFL’s best divisions, this year is an obvious ebb compared to what we’ve gotten used to. No team is over .500, and the Browns remain the NFL’s only winless squad. Looking around the league, it appears as if the AFC North is the most likely division to put a 9-7 or even 8-8 team into the postseason.
“This is our opportunity to go win the division,” Harbaugh acknowledged. “We won the Pittsburgh game to tie the division at 4-4. Since then, we both beat Cleveland and lost to Dallas, so we’re even, and there’s six games left. The same thing goes for Cincinnati, who is right behind the both of us, and we’re all going to play each other over the course of the next six games. It’s going to come down to that. It’s probably what we knew going into the season that it was going to come down to division games, and that’s what it’s going to come down to.
“I’m excited about that. Our guys are as well.”
The road to the postseason is one that will be bumpy at best, given their remaining schedule. Though the coach was quick to include Cincinnati in the discussion, this will most likely be a two-team race between the Steelers and the Ravens.
The strength of schedules between the two teams show that Pittsburgh, on paper, have the easier run. The Ravens probably need to win out at home (three remaining games) and steal one on the road either at New England, Pittsburgh or Cincy to get them to nine wins, to give themselves a shot.
It can be done; we’ve seen it before. If Harbaugh’s crew can somehow put it all together for four quarters they could turn whats been an ugly season on its head down the stretch.
If not, John’s end-of-season conversation with his bosses could be quite uncomfortable.
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