No excuse for losing. AFC North: Week 16
This is the portion of the week where I usually breakdown the AFC playoff picture. The Ravens were on the outside looking in last week, and after a 20-12 win against the Jaguars, a Chargers loss to the Broncos, the Ravens now find themselves in the sixth and final playoff spot with two games to play. Fortunately, the Ravens are in line to face two subpar quarterbacks in the final games. Thad Lewis or Case Keenum in the upcoming matchup in Houston. Johnny Manziel, first round pick, in the season finale here at home who was shutout in his first career start. Browns coach Mike Pettine has already declared to keep moving forward with Manziel.
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Needless to say, let’s not over think this. The Ravens continue to win and they are in the playoffs, and there is no excuse what so ever for losing the next two games. The Ravens have no business losing to the fourth or fifth quarterback options of the Texans, all while the Houston Texans are all but eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to Indy. The Ravens have no business losing a home game against the Browns, no matter what. With a playoff spot, possibly a division title on the line, a Browns team trotting out their rookie with nothing really to play for except to be the spoiler, there is no excuse for not being more prepared then the opposition for that game.
The only way the Ravens lose the next two, is by beating themselves. The penalties continue to rack up at an alarming rate as they had the most pre-snap penalties in Week 13 (6) and 14 (5), and second most in week 15 (4). Pre snap penalties are, the common theme here, inexcusable. They are completely preventable. It’s not a ref blowing a PI, or illegal contact, or something of a judgment call. Last Sunday, even Jeremy Zuttah, the man with the ball, moved before he snapped the ball. How does that happen? They have to shore up the discipline issues, especially if January football is in their future where you have to play perfect games in order to topple the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
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Winning out gets the Ravens in, but to get the all-important home playoff game, they will need some help to win the division. If the Bengals win out, the division is theirs. If the Steelers win out, the division is theirs. If the Ravens win out, they need each of the Bengals and Steelers to lose one more game. Since they face each other in the final week, at least one of CIN and PIT needs to lose this weekend.
A Ravens loss at Houston means that they cannot win the division. Even if the other teams lose this week. Either the Bengals or Steelers will finish with 10 wins. The Ravens could also get to 10. If the Bengals do, it’s theirs by way of better record at 10-5-1. If the Steelers do, it would be by having a 4-2 division record, and the best the Ravens can do is 3-3.
Let’s take a look at the other two matchups of note on the horizon for the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) vs. Denver Broncos (11-3): DEN -3 ½. Mon. 8:30
I’ve said it a hundred times. Good luck figuring this league out. The Bengals narrowly escape with a win against the lowly Bucs, get crushed by a division foe in Pittsburgh, then come back against an in state rival and decide to show up to the tune of 30-0. I understand it was all eyes on Johnny Football day, but a shutout is a shutout, and 30-0 in a division game is a statement.
After a mind boggling 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Broncos have won four straight, but not in very dominating fashion. Not in the way we have seen Peyton Manning annihilate teams. The Broncos have failed to break 30 points in their last three games. But they also haven’t allowed more than 20 in each of the last three either.
Manning last three games:
@KC – 17/34, 179 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT
vs. BUF – 14/20, 173 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
@SD – 14/20, 223 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
When you can win games and not rely on Manning to do so, but know that he is there when you need him…that is scary. But is it not needing Manning, or is it limiting him? He was ill entering the Chargers game, requiring four IVs on Saturday and Sunday morning in order to suit up. Two of those three games have been cold weather games. Monday night’s low temp in Cincinnati is estimated to hover around 32.
The more balanced attack by Denver has led to C.J. Anderson getting the heavy work load out of the backfield, with 27, 32, 21, and 29 carries in the last four weeks. He averaged 5.7 YPC in the first two games of that stretch, but only 2.9 YPC in the last games.
On the Bengals side, they will have a tough test on offense to beat the Denver defense. The only real weapon on the receiving side, A.J. Green, will face a tough matchup of Chris Harris Jr, and bracketed over the top by Rahim Moore, having a better career since the Ravens made him a scapegoat in 2012.
Jeremy Hill has unseated Gio Bernard as the workhorse back, and racked up 148 yards and two TDs on 25 carries last week. But he’ll face the Denver defense that ranks second in the league against the run, allowing just 71.6 YPC on the ground.
Prediction: Broncos 23, Bengals 17
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: PIT -3, Sun. 1:00
The Steelers offense is clicking on all cylinders right now as Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, despite being the number one targets of opposing defenses, continue to roll over whomever they face. The defense however leaves a lot to be desired as they allow 24.2 PPG, and allow some subpar teams to hang around in games they have no business being in. Think that Atlanta, Tennessee, New York Jets, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay all came down to the final whistle, and some of those we’re upsets over the Steelers.
On the flip side, they handle their business against the likes of Indy, Baltimore once, Cincy in their lone meeting so far.
Kansas City is fledgling right now, favorites in their last four games, and are 1-3 in said games. The lone win was a convincing one over Oakland last week, ending a three game skid started by a loss to the same Oakland team. One reason for the underachieving could be not utilizing their best player, Jamaal Charles enough. Before the 1-3 stretch they are on, the Chiefs won five straight, while Charles averaged 20.8 touches per game. In the last four games, three of them losses, 15.5 touches. PFF lists Charles as the third most elusive, and third best breakaway back in the game. So…get him the ball…a lot. Especially with the season on the line as a loss would all but eliminate the Chiefs from playoff contention, dropping them to 8-7.
It’s a big game for both as the Chiefs need this one, and the Steelers know they can win the division if they win out (vs. CIN wk. 17). Charles left the game last week in the third quarter, precautionary, after a shot to the head. If it limits him, forget it.
Prediction: Steelers 24 – Chiefs 23
Other games of note:
Chargers @ 49ers: SF -2, Sat. 8:25
Browns @ Panthers: CAR -4, Sun. 1:00
Bills @ Raiders: BUF -6, Sun 4:25
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]