By beating Oilers, Ravens can gush about the playoffs

September 21, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Let's talk playoffs.

What the heck, this chance might not come again.

A win today, and the Ravens will improve to 3-1.

A win today, and they'll double their all-time road victory total.

A win today, and they can finish 9-7 by playing .500 the rest of the season.

Quick, consult the tiebreaking formulas!

Is a first-round bye possible?

Seriously, it's difficult to conceive of the Ravens winning at Tennessee. But then, it was difficult to conceive of them losing to the New York Giants last week, and it almost happened.

This is the NFL. No team is that good, except maybe Denver. No team is that bad, except maybe New Orleans. Every week, it's Mediocre vs. Mediocre, and no result is guaranteed.

So, let's talk playoffs, at least until the final gun sounds today.

If nothing else, the Ravens already are 3-0 against the point spread.

Alas, it is the only thing they cover.

(With that, we extend a hearty welcome to Eugene Daniel, the Ravens' new 36-year-old cornerback. He's listed as the fourth corner. If he plays, he'll be in the nickel package by the third series and the starting lineup by halftime.)

Now where were we?

Ah yes, the playoff hunt.

Any moment now, it will be time to discuss common opponents and point differentials.

The Ravens don't appear to match up well with the Oilers -- Vinny Testaverde guaranteed he would never play worse after losing to them in Week 3 last year, and even a defense ranked sixth in the league against the run will struggle to contain Eddie George and Co.

L Still, who can predict what will happen at the Liberty Bowl?

As pits go, it's about as threatening as an orchestra's.

A crowd of only 20,000 is expected for this AFC Central showdown between the old Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers. The late, great Memphis Mad Dogs of the CFL drew

about as well, bless their three-down hearts.

Actually, you can't blame Memphis. The city was an expansion loser, just like Baltimore. And now it's being asked to pay obscene prices to support a team that will stay only two years.

Think about it:

How many fans would have shown up at Memorial Stadium if Baltimore had been in the same position, serving as the temporary home for say, a team relocating to Northern Virginia?

Uh, about as good as it was for the Bowie Baysox.

Anyway, crowd noise won't be a factor. The zebras won't feel compelled to meet their usual quota of hometown calls. The only problem for the Ravens is that Testaverde might be blinded by the empty seats.

This is a road game only because the Ravens have to board a plane. For all the hostility they'll encounter, they might as well be playing in Ted Marchibroda's hometown of Franklin, Pa.

A win today, and they'll be on a three-game winning streak.

A win today, and they could go to 4-1 at San Diego next week.

A win today, and we'll formulate a magic number.

Even if the Ravens lose, they'll still be in decent shape at 2-2. They'll stand an excellent chance of beating San Diego, then will return home to face Pittsburgh before the bye week.

Where is the Super Bowl this season, anyway?

The Ravens can't be trusted to find their way to Memorial Stadium, much less to San Diego. Still, logic dictates that they should only get better, if they stay healthy.

The revamped defensive line has played together only two weeks. The two rookie linebackers are gaining experience. And Daniel figures to eventually help the secondary.

Then there's the offense.

Slot receiver Jermaine Lewis rejoins the lineup today after missing two games. Running back Bam Morris returns to practice from his suspension tomorrow. Center Wally Williams will be back no later than Oct. 19 against Miami.

Like it or not, the Ravens desperately need Morris to provide offensive balance -- they rank third in the NFL in passing, but only 20th in rushing. The problem could become even more evident against the Oilers, who lead the league in rushing defense.

By late October, however, the offense could include Morris in the backfield, Eric Green at tight end and Lewis, Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander at receiver -- with Williams bolstering an already solid line.

Many weapons. Many possibilities.

Before last week's game, NBC analyst Randy Cross turned to Testaverde and said, "Vinny, you have so many toys. How do you choose which ones to play with?"

At 2-1, there is finally room for such talk, but let's not get silly. The Ravens are coming off their first road victory, riding their first two-game winning streak. It's not as if they've suddenly become the Green Bay Packers.

Then again, the defending Super Bowl champions also are 2-1 -- and an unimpressive 2-1 at that.

Quick, consult the tiebreakers!

Let's talk playoffs, before it's too late.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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