With the 9-3 Ravens coming out of their Week 13 bye aiming to win their first division title since 2019 and qualify for the postseason for the fifth time in six years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Though no longer occupying the AFC’s top spot after Miami’s win, the Ravens do control their path to the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage with Kansas City falling to Green Bay. Daunting remaining schedule or not, you can’t ask for much more than that with a month to go.
2. With both Cleveland and Pittsburgh losing to grow the division lead to two full games with five contests to play, the Ravens have no excuse not to win the AFC North. The Browns and Steelers may have easier remaining schedules, but neither team is trustworthy.
3. A shakeup to the current playoff field is inevitable with only one game separating the No. 5 seed from 10th place in the conference, but I’d prefer facing the current wild-card teams — Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis — to Houston, Denver, and Buffalo. It’s going to be an excititing final month.
4. A tough fourth quarter aside, Joe Flacco played admirably in his first action of the season and certainly looked like Cleveland’s best option going forward. How in the world did the Jets — and other teams — not look at Flacco as a superior backup plan to what they’ve fielded at quarterback?
5. The Browns have allowed a combined 65 points to Denver and the Los Angeles Rams over the last two weeks, which should end any talk about Cleveland having a better defense than Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed the fewest points in the NFL and now rank first in defensive DVOA.
6. Speaking of the playoff-hopeful Rams, Baltimore sleeping on Sean McVay’s team would be a big mistake coming out of the bye. Matthew Stafford is coming off his best two games of the season, and the Los Angeles defense has also been playing better in recent weeks.
7. Yes, the Ravens have suffered some maddening defeats over the last couple seasons, but when was the last time they suffered a home loss as putrid as Pittsburgh’s 24-10 setback to Arizona? Kenny Pickett injury or not, that was a really bad look for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
8. I’m not against adding Zach Ertz, but the 33-year-old offers little as a blocker and averaged just 6.9 yards per catch in seven games prior to suffering a quad injury. He could help, but he’s still not replacing the off-script element Lamar Jackson and the Ravens miss from Mark Andrews.
9. After sitting out the end of the last two seasons, Jackson being the last quarterback standing in the AFC North is wild as Pickett will now miss some action after undergoing ankle surgery. The Ravens will pray, cross their fingers, and clutch a rabbit’s foot that Jackson stays upright.
10. As noted last week, Jadeveon Clowney has been one of 2023’s best stories, but keeping veterans fresh down the stretch is challenging. Justin Houston was on his way to double-digit sacks last year before finishing with just a half-sack over the last seven games. The late bye should help.
11. Watching the Chiefs fall behind by two scores for the second straight week, it struck me that Baltimore hasn’t trailed by more than seven points all season. No, you’re not crowned a champion for such an achievement, but it’s still impressive at this late stage of the season.
12. I’ve said for a month that no team has been playing better than the Ravens, but it’s tough to overlook San Francisco’s road demolition of Philadelphia and the 49ers winning their last four games — three against legitimate playoff contenders — by a combined 85 points. Christmas is going to be fun.