Ravens are headed for a fall, but fear not, it'll be temporary

The Kickoff

November 29, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

In the heady aftermath of the Ravens' one-sided dismantling of the defending NFL champion Pittsburgh Steelers, I lost my balance and fell off the bandwagon ... at least temporarily.

The Ravens looked invincible Sunday and the AFC North title is all but a formality, but I wouldn't go popping open the Dom Perignon just yet. The Cincinnati Bengals aren't going to be too keen on hosting a clinching party tomorrow night at Paul Brown Stadium.

Here's why the Ravens will hit a speed bump on their way to the playoffs and why it won't be such a bad thing:

The Bengals have their backs to the wall and need this game far more than the Ravens. They know it, their fans know it, and the Ravens know it.

Both teams will be playing on short rest, but the Bengals will have the home crowd to give them an emotional boost. The Ravens are coming off a highly emotional victory over their most hated rival and can't help but face some form of letdown under these conditions.

Ray Lewis returned from a back injury Sunday, but looked a little gimpy after the game. Don't be surprised if he plays sparingly tomorrow night so he'll be able to take advantage of the upcoming 10-day break to get completely healthy for the final month and the playoffs.

The only thing that concerned me about Sunday's lovefest was the possibility that the Ravens might be peaking too soon. No chance of that after Carson Palmer reminds them of their vulnerability to the big play.

The oddsmakers have posted the Bengals as three-point favorites. I think they'll win by nine.

I hope we can still be friends.

What are the odds?

Lest I pull a muscle trying to pat myself on the back, I have been accused by some skeptical readers of "riding the wave" of the Ravens' success on my way to a 10-1 record picking against the spread in their games. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Ravens are on a roll that almost certainly will take them to the playoffs, but they are only 7-4 against the spread this year, which anyone could have matched with no expertise other than being a Ravens fan. The mathematical probability of someone picking correctly 10 out of 11 times (assuming that the betting line represents a 50-50 proposition) is just one in 186.

This information comes courtesy of several mathematically inclined readers, most notably Dr. Steven Yantis from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

I would have figured it out myself, but that would have required that I understand something called "the binomial distribution in probability theory."

Yeah, and I'm married to Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris is trying to recruit me for the CIA.

Looking ahead

Dr. Yantis was nice enough to figure out the overall odds of my picking the rest of the Ravens' games correctly and finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record - 1 in 3,855.

That would make me special.

Pen is mightier

You might be able to question whether the Orioles are serious about spending what's necessary to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East, but I don't think you can doubt their willingness to spend whatever it takes to improve the bullpen.

The acquisition of free agents Jamie Walker, Danys Baez and Chad Bradford - at a combined price of about $14 million per year - should aid in the evolution of the club's pitching youth movement. In particular, the addition of Baez, who has significant experience in the closer role, insures the Orioles against an injury to Chris Ray.

I'm sure there will be some speculation that Ray is now available for trade in the right deal for a big-time run-producer, but I don't believe the club has any intention of parting with him.

Yeah, but ...

All that said, it would be nice if the Orioles signed at least one player this winter who you would recognize if you passed him on the street.

Miami blues

University of Miami president Donna Shalala outlined the qualifications for the next Hurricanes football coach when she announced the firing of Larry Coker, who has a 59-15 record in six seasons at the school, has won a national championship and has raised the football graduation rate very close to the average for the entire student body:

We are looking for an experienced and successful coach of the highest integrity who understands and loves the Miami tradition of success and football family. He must be a great recruiter, of high character, committed to winning championships, academic success and to the University community. We want someone who wants to be at the University of Miami, who is well-organized, inspirational, and can attract a first-rate staff.

If Shalala weren't a former politician desperate to mollify a testy alumni, it might have dawned on her that she just described Larry Coker.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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