With these teams, coin flip might be better way to fill AFC playoff berth

Sloppy Jaguars, Jets, Ravens and Steelers battling for sixth spot

December 09, 2009|By Mike Preston

The Ravens might earn a playoff berth by default, or because there are no more good teams left.

Seriously, look at the teams battling for the sixth and final AFC spot: the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7-5 and the Ravens, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, all at 6-6.

Do we really have to watch them play anymore? Can't we just flip a coin and get this over with?

It's a nasty field that displays inept and downright embarrassing play at times. The Steelers and Ravens used to have intimidating defenses, but neither team has one good shutdown cornerback and both have injured Pro Bowl safeties.

The Jets and Dolphins don't have a top quarterback, even though Miami's Chad Henne is getting better. Jacksonville has one in costume named David Garrard. We were all looking at 10 wins as a barometer to make the playoffs, but with these teams playing one another in the remaining month, nine wins might be more realistic.

Jacksonville and Pittsburgh have the toughest remaining schedules, with the Jaguars hosting Miami and the Indianapolis Colts before closing at New England and Cleveland. Pittsburgh will host the Ravens and Miami, then travels to Green Bay.

Of the group battling for the final AFC playoff spot, the Ravens have a relatively easy schedule, hosting the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and then closing at Pittsburgh and Oakland.

It's tough watching the Ravens play. Despite all their shortcomings, they'll probably be in the playoff race until the end.

That's the way the NFL prefers it. League officials call it parity, another name for a lot of watered-down teams having a lot of holes.

A coin flip might be more appealing.

Cut. It. Out.
If the Ravens want to be considered serious playoff contenders, they have to cut down on the penalties. Fans have been talking about them all season, to no avail.

The Ravens had 12 penalties for 135 yards against the Packers, who had 11 for 175 yards. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Green Bay has explosive receivers who can make up the ground in a hurry.

Some of the penalties can be controlled, and some can't. But the Ravens have a reputation for holding receivers. Until they stop, the officials are going to keep their hands on their flags whenever the ball is in the air.

Of central concern
There have been numerous times this season when Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has said his team can't throw over the middle because the defense takes that part of the field away.

Why is it that the Ravens never take it away from opposing teams? The best quarterbacks in the league have chopped up the Ravens with passes over the middle, the latest being Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.

Until it's proved otherwise, the Ravens don't go over the middle because they either don't have faith in quarterback Joe Flacco or he doesn't have the plays in the playbook. If it's the latter, maybe the Ravens ought to get a new playbook.

Rice's routes figured out
Speaking of a new playbook, it was only a matter of time before opposing teams took away running back Ray Rice as a passing weapon out of the backfield.

There were times Monday night when the Packers beat Rice to his spots in the middle of the field or in the flat. It appeared as though Flacco was throwing to them instead of Rice. Barring immediate changes, Rice is headed into some serious collisions.

One other thing: Maybe the Ravens ought to start warming up backup quarterback Troy Smith on the sideline every once in a while. It might light a fire under Flacco.

Under pressure
Flacco might be suffering more from physical exhaustion than mental exhaustion. The pass he intended for receiver Demetrius Williams, which was picked off by cornerback Tramon Williams in the end zone with nine minutes left in the game, was a definite no-no.

Flacco was rolling to his right and threw across his body across the field. Maybe a gunslinger like Brett Favre makes that kind of play, but not Flacco.

The second-year quarterback out of Delaware is beat up. Some of it could have been prevented, especially early in the season when the Ravens thought they were Air Coryell, throwing 40 times a game. Meanwhile, Flacco was a human punching bag, and he might be punched out.

The doghouse that isn't
John Harbaugh says he doesn't have a doghouse, but he does, and once you're in, it's hard to get out.

Tight end Todd Heap, receiver Demetrius Williams and outside linebacker Antwan Barnes are starting to get out, but it's logical to conclude that Heap, Williams and running back Willis McGahee won't return next season.

Veteran end Trevor Pryce and cornerback Fabian Washington haven't been in Harbaugh's doghouse, but both have probably spent their last year in a Ravens uniform.

Credit Carr
Let's give some credit where credit is due. The Ravens secondary struggled against Green Bay, but dime corner Chris Carr has improved the past two weeks.

I'm not saying he is Deion Sanders, but he is no Donny Brady anymore.

Grade adjustment
After reviewing the tape of the Green Bay game, the Ravens' offensive line should get a "D" instead of a "C."

The Packers took turns beating Ravens tackles Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, and left guard Ben Grubbs didn't show up until the second half.

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