Ravens' karma trending in wrong direction for meeting with Bengals?


OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter which way you look this week, it’s impossible to ignore the signs of bad karma as the Ravens prepare for the most important game of their season and, perhaps, in the regular-season history of the franchise.
There was the organization’s decision to delay the mailing of playoff tickets until next week. It’s clearly a financially-prudent choice, but it doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the Ravens winning in Cincinnati when looking from a superficial level.
The Bengals then announced they sold out Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday’s showdown at 4:15 p.m., eliminating the potential for a listless atmosphere such as the one in which the Ravens played in Cleveland earlier this month. Poke all the fun you want at the two-for-one deal the organization offered its season-ticket holders, but there will be 65,000 fans in attendance, even if several thousand make the trip from Baltimore to support the Ravens.
Of course, putting the interesting — but inconsequential — footnotes aside, the Ravens are dealing with a plethora of injuries as wide receiver Anquan Boldin has already been ruled out, leaving behind a passing offense that struggled to find its way against the Cleveland Browns last Saturday. Marshal Yanda, their Pro Bowl right guard, is dealing with rib and thigh contusions, leaving his status up in the air against the fifth-ranked run defense in the NFL.
And, yes, the Ravens own a 3-4 record on the road this season. It’s the reason why they covet the AFC North title, a first-round bye, and a guarantee of a second-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they are 8-0 this season.
The Ravens want the home cooking, but they may need the time to allow their bodies to heal even more.
“When you get that bye, you’re able to play fresh throughout the whole game, and it makes a big difference, a huge difference,” running back Ray Rice said. “Needless to say, this week is a playoff game. It’s big for them, and it’s even bigger for us.”
Treating this one as a playoff game is a common theme shared by many in the Ravens’ locker room this week. The notion of this one being bigger for the Ravens than it is for the Bengals sounds great if you’re peering through purple-tinted lenses, but it goes against all reasonable logic.
Regardless of what happens on Sunday, the Ravens know they’re playing another game; the Bengals own no such luxury. And for a Baltimore team that’s struggled to maintain focus on the road throughout the season — often faltering in weeks that followed a significant win — it’s a concerning circumstance.
With so much emphasis on winning a championship with veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the twilight of their careers, are the Ravens too focused on the big picture of Indianapolis to pay close attention to the necessary stops along the way?
“This game pays off, if we can this this game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But, whatever happens, we’re going to play the next game, too. So, our focus is on this game. You can’t play games in the future, and you can’t play any games in the past.”
The head coach said it himself. The Ravens still have outs if they lose on Sunday, even if you don’t like their odds having to go on the road for the fourth consecutive postseason.
Meanwhile, the Bengals’ opportunity to make the playoffs diminishes significantly with a loss in what’s turned out to be a remarkable season under head coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati is that desperate man with nothing to lose, the one you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
Rookie Andy Dalton demanded the Ravens’ attention after throwing for 373 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s 31-24 loss in Baltimore last month. The Bengals possess three dangerous weapons in tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson for Dalton to target.
It falls short — in both height and statistics — of the Chargers offense that humiliated the Baltimore defense in a nationally-televised game two weeks ago, but it’s similar enough to raise concern if the uninspired Ravens show up like they did in road performances at Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle, and, most recently, San Diego.
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  1. Karma is a funny thing. On one hand, it is no more than what anyone wants to put into it. On the other hand, the body will only go where the mind sends it.
    I never liked the emphasis the team put on having to get by Pittsburgh and having to avoid road playoff games. I much prefer the emphasis ion trying to get better week after week, and taking on all comers. Yes, the Ravens have fallen short three years in a row, and losing to Pittsburgh has been there to haunt the team twice. And, yes, the team hasn’t had a home playoff game during the Harbaugh years.
    Yet, the Ravens were still 4-3 in playoff games on the road against teams tougher than their regular season losses of this year and even the Steelers can’t claim making the playoffs all of the past four years.
    Somehow that emphasis has become somewhat self-fulfilling. The Ravens are 2-0 against Pittsburgh with the probable need to make it 3-0. Yet, the Ravens are 3-4 on the road despite winning at Pittsburgh.
    Except for the game in San Diego where the Chargers scored 24 points in their first four possessions, I do not blame the other road losses on lethargy. While some of it was poor play and mistakes — especially at Seattle — most of it was stupid play. Some of that existed against Arizona and Cleveland at home, too, except the Ravens got away with it.
    If the Ravens play stupidly or play give-away, the Bengals will pose a problem.
    Now “trending” (very trendy, by the way) is a different thing altogether.
    I like to look at the Aikman Efficiency Ratings. They take five categories Troy Aikman deem as being important, and rates each one of them statistically against a ten-year average heading into each season. If it matches the average, that category gets a 15. Better gets more while the opposing defense gets less. Add the five scores together and you have your offensive and defensive AER for that team for that game.
    AER’s are a far better measure of why a team has won or loss than yards, the way the NFL does it as an official stat. For example, the Bears outgained the Packers on Sunday night 441-363 in yards. If you take the combined NFL ranking using yards only, Green Bay ranks 5th and 31st on offense and defense for an average of 18th. That would be worse than the Redskins’ combined. However, the top nine teams in AER are playoff bound.
    This does NOT indicate upcoming winners and losers. I use two manipulations of these stats to help with predictions but I use six other indicators as well. Nevertheless, trending is what has happened so I have taken the AER’s of Baltimore and Cincinnati for their three five-game stretches so far this year.
    Overall, the Ravens are 79.7 offensively and 84.3 defensively. Their 164.0 is second best behind Green Bay. They are one of only five teams to be above 75.0 both offensively and defensively. Only the 49ers are better than the Ravens defensively, and the Harbaugh teams are the only two over 80.0.
    Meanwhile, the Bengals are 75.6 and 73.3. Their 148.9 combined AER is 19th best. Only Oakland and Denver rank lower but have winning records.
    From a trending standpoint, the Ravens on offense in five-game increments are 77.4, 80.4, 81.3 — and upward trend. Defensively, they have trended downwards by going 88.7, 82.3, 81.9 even though their defense still holds an edge over the offense in the most recent third of the season.
    Meanwhile, Cincinnati has gone 76.7, 80.1, 70.0 and 76.3, 68.7, 74.9.
    Baltimore’s combined AER advantage in five-game segments have been 13.1, 13.9, 18.3 better than the Bengals.
    While I haven’t declared yet my pick for any of this week’s games, the evidence indicates the Ravens are trending upwards. Let’s hope the in-game decisions by coaches and players continue to match that.
    (L.J. – Thanks for commenting and very thoughtful analysis!)

  2. I feel that there is to much emphasis on the Ravens seeming inability to win on the road. Championship teams for the most part make hay at home and split on the road. If the Ravens win Sunday, they will end the season 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road. Not too shabby!

  3. Luke,
    I call your “trending in the wrong karma direction” and raise you with my reverse MOOSH to block your blog with this:
    My Flacco Fu-Man-Chu looks marvelous….”It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look and you look marvelous”—-Ravens #2 Seed in the AFC
    Fernando Lamas

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