A Baltimore Ravens hat lies in the bench area before the first half of an NFL football preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
When the Baltimore Ravens return to action on Oct. 11 against the Cleveland Browns, they’ll do so as a 1-3 team, fresh off a comeback against rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a 23-20 Thursday night overtime thriller.
Facing the prospect of an 0-4 start, Baltimore potentially turned their season around by stopping the Steelers on the road and making some key plays when it counted. Baltimore still dwells at the bottom of the AFC North but they have some good momentum going into an extended layoff, with a 10-day break before they take the field again. The Ravens might have the worst record in the AFC but they still have a strong team, capable of beating any opponent in the conference. Can the Ravens still make the playoffs? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Green: The Ravens just have to sit tight. They still have a Super Bowl MVP quarterback, and adequate talent on both sides of the ball. There aren’t a whole lot of teams in the conference that can offer that type of combo, and you have to factor in the coaching expertise of John Harbaugh, who always has his team ready to battle. They showed some moxie the other night in Pittsburgh and I think it’ll carry over to the second quarter of the season.
Riley: It’s difficult to start out 0-3 and still make the playoffs in the NFL, so the Ravens might have too much of an uphill battle ahead. Yes, Joe Flacco is still in his prime, and the defense has some solid players, but this team isn’t anywhere close to some of the clubs that Harbaugh has coached in the past. Too much talent has been lost and this could be the year where the bottom falls out completely. Pittsburgh practically gave the game away to the Ravens—twice. Baltimore then tried their best to give it back to the Steelers, but their offer was politely declined by Steelers kicker Josh Scobee, who missed critical field goals. Baltimore got their first win of the season thanks to sheer incompetence by Pittsburgh so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their overtime victory. Baltimore has a long way to go to get back to respectability and I don’t know if they have the horses or the time to do that after such a shaky start.
Green: Get back to respectability? When did we start losing respect for the Ravens franchise? You don’t erase the respect of a team that reached the playoffs in six of its last seven seasons with an 0-3 start. Remember, all three of their losses were by six points or less. They weren’t getting blown out—Baltimore was losing some really close games that could have all been won had one play turned out differently. The win against the Steelers was simply the break they finally needed to get their confidence back. Now that they have some confidence, things could get interesting. Their late season schedule is extremely favorable and could propel the Ravens to a strong finish. After a late-October West Coast trip to face San Francisco and Arizona in back-to-back weeks, the next six of eight contests are at the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium. You also have to factor in that Baltimore’s two road games in that stretch are against the lowly Cleveland Browns and the struggling Miami Dolphins. Also, let’s not forget that Flacco normally plays his best as the season goes on. Call me crazy, but I have the Ravens in the postseason.
Riley: You’re crazy, Green. Home games in the NFL don’t automatically translate into wins and you failed to mention how a few of those contests are against Seattle, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. You also left out the part about veteran receiver Steve Smith leaving the Thursday night contest against Pittsburgh early with a back injury. With rookie receiver Breshard Perriman seemingly on the shelf and no immediate time table for his return, the loss of Smith leaves Flacco without any type of threat on the outside. The offensive production is down and the 20th anniversary edition of the Ravens is a unit missing powerful names of the past such as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The mystique and the talent that made Baltimore such a strong outfit for much of the last decade is gone—and so might be the Ravens’ chances for making the playoffs this season.