It might be hard to believe, but we already find ourselves more than halfway through the 2017 NFL season. At this point of the season, it’s clear that teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kansas City Chiefs have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the AFC. But after those three teams, the rest of the playoff picture becomes very murky. The AFC South will probably be represented by either Tennessee or Jacksonville, but the race for the two wild card spots promises to be a chase that will likely come down to the last week of the regular season. One of the teams that currently finds themselves in the middle of a very jumbled pack is the Baltimore Ravens.
Four Reasons Why The Baltimore Ravens Will Make The Playoffs
A lot of things have not gone Baltimore’s way so far this year, such as the struggles of the offense or the inability of the defense to show up when it counts. While there have been a lot of grumblings among fans of Baltimore so far this year, there’s still reason for optimism among Ravens fans as the rest of the season goes along. Here are four reasons why the Baltimore Ravens can still make the playoffs.
Baltimore Will Get Healthier
It’s no secret that over the last couple of seasons, Baltimore has been hit hard by the injury bug. This season’s injury report is no exception, as the Ravens have been hit with big losses on both sides of the ball, most notably All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda. Losses to the likes of Ronnie Stanley, Nick Boyle and Jimmy Smith have been big as well. Boyle gives Joe Flacco a good combination of blocking and receiving, while Stanley is one of the key pieces of an offensive line that has had it’s problems keeping Flacco upright all year.
Jimmy Smith is the top corner of a defense that has been relied upon to help carry the team over the last couple of years. Smith, Boyle, and Stanley will be healthy enough to return before the season is over. But perhaps the best injury news of all came this week, when Danny Woodhead was taken off of IR and placed back on the active roster.
Woodhead is a great option out of the backfield for Flacco to utilize in the passing game, which is one of the bigger keys of the Ravens offense over the last few seasons. If the Ravens can get their key players healthy for the stretch run, it could help propel this team out of a very muddy AFC playoff picture.
The Ravens Can Run The Football
It’s not a secret that Baltimore has had their struggles offensively so far this year, but one piece of the team that has been solid is the rushing attack. Despite the struggles of Terrance West, the team’s starting running back at the beginning of the season, the Ravens still find themselves ninth in the NFL in rushing more than halfway through the season.
Alex Collins is the biggest reason why, as the second year running back from Arkansas has made his way from the practice squad all the way to the top of the Baltimore depth chart and currently sits third in the NFL with a 5.6 yards per carry average. Combine that with the return of Woodhead to the backfield, and the Ravens have the pieces to be able to run the football and hopefully take some heat off of the struggling Flacco and his receiving corps, which has been heavily criticized for most of the season.
The Ravens Have A Favorable Schedule
Of the playoff contenders that sit in the AFC, Baltimore has a schedule that should yield them wins as the second half of the year rolls along. The team is looking forward to a two game home-stand against Houston and Detroit, in which Baltimore will face a Texans squad without DeShaun Watson and a Detroit team that has faced it’s struggles over the last few seasons outside of Ford Field.
The prime-time game in Pittsburgh will be tough, but after that comes a winnable road game against the winless Cleveland Browns. Baltimore will then finish the season with a pair of home games against Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Overall, Baltimore has a schedule which could see the team pick up a handful of wins, which very well could be enough to propel them to a wildcard spot in the messy AFC.
The Rest Of The AFC Is An Absolute Mess
Outside of New England, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City, there’s no real clear cut next tier teams in the AFC right now. After a surprisingly solid beginning to their year, the New York Jets have shown signs of fading over the last couple of weeks, losing three of their last four games, and the Oakland Raiders still have lots of questions defensively more than halfway through the season. The two teams at the top of the AFC South right now, Jacksonville and Tennessee, both have favorable schedules coming down the stretch, and it’s more than likely that whoever doesn’t win that division will grab one of the two wildcard spots. That leaves one wildcard spot available, which will more than likely come down to Buffalo, Oakland, the Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore. Buffalo will be playing with rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman after the benching of Tyrod Taylor was announced earlier this week, and the Ravens already own head to head victories over the Raiders and Dolphins from earlier this season.
It’s very likely that nine wins might be enough to lock up the final wildcard spot this season, and of the teams stuck in the middle of a messy playoff picture, the Baltimore Ravens have a schedule that can yield them the five wins necessary to reach the nine win plateau and elevate them into the AFC playoffs.
The Ravens Can Make The Playoffs
So fear not, Ravens fans. Despite the struggles of the team so far this year, there is plenty of reason for optimism as the last part of the season rolls along. While some of you might be close to the edge of the cliff, staring down at what seems like a frustrating season so far, it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet. The rest of the AFC has just as many question marks as Baltimore does, and if the team can find a way to take advantage of a couple of breaks here and there, there’s still a very good chance that the Ravens could find themselves playing a seventeenth game this season once January rolls around.
So, there’s reason for optimism in Baltimore as we go through the latter part of the NFL season. Do you agree? Do you think I’m crazy? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter @Sports_Stack or @McFleegle!