Playoffs are a Long Shot, but Still a Shot

You've heard these two words a million times before: Mathematically eliminated. Coaches speak about the terms all the time at this point in the season.

So it wasn't surprising to read that when Ravens' coach Brian Billick was asked about his team's chances of making the playoffs, he uttered the magical phrase, "Until we are told that we are mathematically ineligible to make the playoffs, we've still got something to play for".


Usually, when a coach speaks about being mathematically eligible to crawl into the backdoor of the postseason on hands and knees, he's just delaying the inevitable copout for why the club failed to keep their season going.


In other cases, you know a team is finished, but they don't know it themselves.


In the Ravens' case, the coaches and the organization isn't just whistling Dixie about their slim chances of winning the North, which is the only way that they could progress into the postseason, they have a legitimate case to stay somewhat confident.


Yes, it's hard to imagine Baltimore winning three straight games the rest of the way.

When faced with high stakes and must win situations, the Ravens have folded faster than a paper airplane.


With a chance to grab the division lead away from Pittsburgh earlier in the season, the Ravens were ambushed at home, succumbing to an early 25-point deficit, which eventually turned into a 31-18 loss in Ravens stadium.


Against the Dolphins, the Ravens had another opportunity to put themselves over the.500 mark, but they were drilled in Miami.

And then there was last Sunday. Everything set itself up perfectly for the Ravens to get themselves positioned to grab the North away from
Pittsburgh and Cleveland.


The Steelers improbably lost to the Texans and while the Browns did pull out a last minute hail mary win over the Jaguars, with a win over the Saints, Baltimore could have at least tied with Cleveland for a second place standing, while positioning themselves a half game back of Pittsburgh for first place.


New Orleans said no dice, and proceeded to take advantage of a Baltimore turnover machine, which coughed up the ball seven times if you include the two punts they had blocked.


With that loss, it was pretty clear that the 2002 Ravens' team is just not ready to play with the big boys and more importantly, they don't have the composure to win a game they need to win.


However, they are still in the playoff hunt with a more reasonable chance to make it then some may believe, thanks to the Steelers' inconsistencies, the Browns' unpredictability and an AFC conference that is still jumbled.


Do you honestly want to wager your lifesavings on these two teams pulling themselves together to comfortably assume control of their own destiny? Not me, buddy.


Yeah, I was the guy who said the Steelers were a lock to win the North, while they would face little resistance from Cleveland or Baltimore. I still think they will win the division, but this isn't the same team that routed the Colts and Ravens in back to back weeks, which predictably prompted every "expert" to jump back on their bandwagon.

Following the Steelers' tie with the Falcons, they were waxed by the Titans, struggled to put away both the Bengals and the Jaguars, and last week the final straw broke when they lost by 18-points to the expansion Texans while out gaining Houston by well over 300 yards in total offense.  


Now, one beating of the Panthers in a key home game could change things for the Steelers, certainly. However, don't forget that the black and gold still have to face the mighty Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, in a crucial Monday Night matchup the week after.


All the Pittsburgh has to do is lose once, and the door will fly back open for the Ravens to glide in.  


As for the Browns, their chances to win the division are just as doubtful as the Ravens' chances.


Their next three opponents are the Colts, Ravens and Falcons. If Cleveland sweeps these three games, then they are a much better team than anyone realized.


Obviously, the Ravens would want to be one of those three teams that defeat the Browns down the stretch. With a W over Cleveland, Baltimore would hold the tie breaker over the Browns if both teams should finish with the same record.


In any case, here is the bottom line. Forget about the Ravens' chances for winning the AFC North. Just think to yourself, can the season finale against the Steelers mean something for this club?

Certainly, with a win over Houston this Sunday, a win over Cleveland the following Sunday and a Pittsburgh loss to Tampa Bay, the Ravens will have a chance to win the division in Pittsburgh. That's an accomplishment nobody predicted for this team before the season started.



It doesn't even matter if the Steelers beat the Ravens senseless all over Heinz Field. For this team to have a pseudo playoff game in December would be special.


Hey, getting six wins would have been a tremendous accomplishment, and it's one that the Ravens have already achieved. If the club could notch eight wins, many suggested that Brian Billick should have the coach of the year award renamed after him.

But having the chance to make the playoffs in December? Nobody would have thunk it.

Still, let's take things one game at a time, starting in
Houston this Sunday.


The Ravens could just as easily lose three straight games as they could win two of their last three, or three straight altogether. That type of stumbling finish wouldn't devalue their promising season any further, but given their inexperience and lack of talent, it wouldn't be a surprise either.


However, the NFL is a whacky league, so people should keep their minds open to any unforeseen events taking place.


There is a strong possibility that the Patriots and Dolphins' season ending battle in frigid New England could be for the East crown.


In the West division, the Chiefs, who are suddenly hotter than Halle Berry, may defeat their three division foes in succession to steal the division away. At the least, if Kansas City should defeat both the Broncos and Chargers in back to back weeks, their season finale against the Raiders could mean everything, with the winner donning the AFC West Champions shirts and hats at the end of the game.


This is the way it should be. Three weeks to go, and virtually every team in the AFC conference still has a chance to play in January, including the roster decimated Ravens.

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