Injuries are part of the NFL, but nothing compares to what happened to the Ravens in the past week. A Covid-ravaged roster caused Baltimore to limp into their game against the Steelers, and lose in surprisingly close fashion. There are questions whether this game should have happened at all. The NFL showed a greater desire to keep its schedule intact than allowing the Ravens time to get healthy — and that could have major ramifications for the team’s playoff chances.
The NFL’s desire to keep to its schedule forced the Ravens to play, despite having 21 players on the Covid-reserve list, including 12 starters and key rotational players. The decision ensured we wouldn’t get a repeat of the astoundingly close matchup between the teams in Week 7, which saw the Ravens push the unbeaten Steelers to the limit, before eventually losing 28-24.
All things considered, there’s a good chance Baltimore would have won on Wednesday if healthy. Despite being without Lamar Jackson, key defensive players, and starting running back Mark Ingram, the Ravens only lost by five points to the best team in the NFL. Knowing that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, the Ravens now sit at third in the AFC North with a 6-5 record. They’re still very much in the hunt, sitting firmly in the playoff bubble, and a favorable record down the stretch could make the difference.
What games do the Ravens have remaining?
Unquestionably the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, the Ravens have at least four of their final five games which should be wins — assuming the team doesn’t have further injuries due to Covid. It looks like Lamar Jackson will miss this week’s game, but should be available next, assuming there aren’t any more setbacks. In addition, we don’t currently know the severity of Robert Griffin III’s hamstring injury, adding more unknowns to the scenario. That said, we’ll work under the assumption that everything from this point on is a best case scenario for the team.
In Week 13 the Ravens face the Cowboys. Enough said about this one, really. If the Ravens have to carry as many injuries into this one as they did vs. Pittsburgh there’s an outside chance Dallas could win, but considering how close they played the Steelers — this should be a win.
The following week will be tougher. The Browns are playing extremely gutsy football, and while it’s not always pretty, it’s proven to be effective. The seems to be the year Cleveland has finally put it all together. If both teams were at full strength this would be a hell of a game, but at best Baltimore will still be recovering from Covid and getting back to fill strength. So, let’s call this one a loss.
Thankfully in Week 15 things get a little easier. The Jaguars have been a mess this season and injuries have contributed to another disappointing season in Jacksonville. At this point we can (hopefully) expect the Ravens to be back to full strength, making this game academic.
In the penultimate week of the season the schedule remains favorable, this time playing host to the New York Giants. Now, the Giants have been on an improbable tear, but that should come to an end against the Ravens. Both teams will have a lot of play for, trying to push into the playoffs — but at the end of the day the Ravens are just too talented.
As unfortunate as the entire Covid situation for the Ravens was, it was made up for in the schedule. The final week of the season comes against the Bengals, who looked great this season until Joe Burrow was injured. Now this should be another easy win for the Ravens, finishing out their season strong.
Will a 10-6 record be good enough for the playoffs?
There are two factors at play this season. Firstly it’s that there’s a wide disparity between the good teams, and bad in the NFL this year — leading to excellent records among the top teams, and secondly that this is a bizarre seven-team-in system this year.
As it stands there are four teams to watch when it comes to Baltimore’s playoff chances.
- Browns (8-3)
- Dolphins (7-4)
- Colts (7-4)
- Raiders (6-5)
Based on the remaining schedules, here’s my projections for how these teams will wind up:
In this scenario the Browns and Colts would be in, the Raiders out — and the battle for the crucial final place coming down to a tiebreaker between the Ravens and Dolphins. Since the teams did not play each other in 2020, we move to the second tiebreaker, which is best divisional record. Both teams are currently 2-2, with two games left to play. The Ravens still face the Browns and Bengals, which I have split at 1-1. The Dolphins still have the Bills and Patriots — which I also split at 1-1.
Now we move to the third tiebreaker, win/loss in common games. The Dolphins beat the Jaguars, and I have the Ravens projected to win. Miami lost to the Patriots, and I have them winning the second game. While Baltimore played New England once, and lost. The Ravens lost to the Chiefs, and I have the Dolphins losing to them as well. Finally Baltimore beat the Bengals, and I believe will beat them again — while Miami will play Cincinnati this weekend, which I have them winning.
Yes, this means by common games both teams have a 3-2 record. Goodness, we’re moving to fourth tiebreaker. That’s win-loss inside the conference, and yes, we finally get this settled. Considering these projections the Dolphins would be in the playoffs with a 7-5 conference record, while the Ravens would be out with a 6-6 conference record.
If you’re keeping score that means that when this all shakes out, the Pittsburgh game on Wednesday was a huge difference maker. Not only did it stop the Ravens from potentially achieving an 11-5 record and getting in, but also theoretically tying the 7-5 conference record (if other games shift a little) and moving us to the fifth tiebreaker, strength of victory, which would have gotten Baltimore in.
Sure, this is a lot of projection and guesswork — but it’s entirely possible that the difference maker in Baltimore’s playoff chances was this single, Covid-ravaged game, made all the difference. That would be the height of unfairness.