On Sunday afternoon, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens John Harbaugh made a decison that will likely negatively effect his team come playoff time. We know how valuable having the number one overall seed is in the post season, even more so now as the playoff format has changed to seven teams with only one team getting the bye in the first round of the tournament.
In case you don't know how important getting the number seed is in the NFL playoffs, allow me to enlighten you! Since the 2013 season, when the Seattle Seahawks "Legion of Boom" embarrased the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII (43 - 8), the number one seeds from both the AFC and NFC conference have met in the season finale every year excpet the Chiefs in 2018 and the Bucs in 2020. Other than those two occurences, the top seed in both conferences have faced off in every Super Bowl since 2013.
Ironically, the last time the bye teams didn't play in the big game was when John Harbaugh coached those Baltimore Ravens to victory over his brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 season. So I believe in the obvious correlation between being the top seed in your confernce and reaching the Super Bowl.
Why is this relevant today? Well, because the coach of the year candidate made a very non-coach of the year decision in the division battle against the rival Steelers in week 13. Entering the week as the number one seed in the AFC at (8 -3), as favorites against Pittsburgh in Heinz Field, one game altering decision may have altered the playoff seeding scenario.
The Ravens dropped from the #1 seed to #3 with one bad decision, one inaccurate throw and a simultaneous dropped pass off the Tight End's finger tips. The rule for receivers is if it hits your hands you should catch it. The rule is if your player is open, as a quarterback you should be able to make the easy throw and the rule is if your team is in contention for the top seed in the playoffs, you don't make dumb decisions like going for the two-point conversion to win when you have the most accurate kicker in NFL history (Justin Tucker) who's all but guaranteed to send your team into overtime.
The Ravens had been outplaying the Steelers all afternoon and logic would suggest their defense would hold up in overtime and let Lamar Jackson do his thing offensively in OT in order to get the win. Going for the 2 points in a scenario where you can now only get the ball back on offense is if the Ravens special teams can recover an onside kick. And even if Baltimore were to recover the onside kick, there was only 12 seconds left in the game to gain at least 30 yards and stop the clock for a chance at a game winning field goal. Way too many ball bounces to rely on for a win the Ravens absolutely needed.
Since they did not convert the two -point conversion or recover the onside kick, Baltimore is looking up at the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans who currently hold the #1 and #2 seeds respectively. And now, even though the Ravens won their head to head match up with Kansas City, the Chiefs are on the rise winners of five straight with identical (8 - 4) records heading into week 14 with 5 critical games left to play on the regular season schedule.
The Ravens came into the Steelers game with the best record and top seed in the AFC. They left Pittsburgh as the 3rd seed in the conference if the post season began Sunday. Having the 3rd seed in your conference is not a bad thing. You still get a first round home game and possibly a second home game depending on what happens after Wild Card Weekend..
As stated earlier, getting the number one seed in your conference and having that first round bye, gives your team a significantly better chance at making it to Super Bowl Sunday! A first round bye is not out of the question for Baltimore. But here's another question: Can the Ravens hold the division lead in the AFC North? They've already lost to the Bengals who are one game behind the Ravens. And they look an L against the Steelers who are surpsingly only a game and half out of first in the division. Not to mention the Cleveland Browns who are (6 - 6) and still very much in post season contention.
courtesy of NFL.com
The Ravens are now (8 - 4) and playing their worst football of the season. Lamar Jackson hasn't been as accurate throwing the ball, the running game has dissipted and receivers are dropping the ball all too often. The Ravens offense has all but vanished over the past four weeks as they have totalled 61 points in those four games, an average of 15 points per game. Good thing for the Ravens is their defense has held up their end of the bargain or they could be at the bottom of the AFC North as opposed to the top.
The last five remaining games will determine wheter or not Baltimore can hold the division lead or regain the top seed in the AFC. Here's why Sunday's decision by John Harbaugh was such a critical move in the grand scheme of the AFC playoff picture. The Ravens have a very tough final five contests coming up to close out the 2021 regular season. It starts with a rematch from two weeks ago when the Ravens edged out a depleted Browns roster (16 - 10). Division games are the toughest games on a teams schedule regardless of their record.
After the week 14 match up against Cleveland, the Ravens have to take on perhaps the best team in the league as the Packers visit Baltimore. Next up are the Bengals who absolutely crushed the Ravens (41 - 17) in week seven. Then they got the Rams high powered offense and opportunistic defense in week 17. To close out the regular season, Baltimore will host Pittsburgh which can very well determine where and if the Ravens even make the playoffs!
The Ravens can win all five of their remaining games. Or they could even lose all five. Odds are they'll likely go a game above or below .500 to finish up the regular season. I personally doubt the Ravens get the top seed with a record like that and makes me think twice about Baltimore winning the division. The 3 divisional games remaining will go a long way in determining the outcome of the AFC North.
The Ravens have an excellent home field advantage with the adoring fans and weather conditions as a running team with a solid defense. But will they host a playoff game after today's mind boggling, brain bending call by veteran head coach John Harbaugh, a Super Bowl champion!?
Teams are trained to say "we're gonna take it one game at a time." However, some teams do need to look into the future and weigh the circumstances of their in-game actions. The actions of week 13 may have cost the Ravens the number one seed in the playoffs. Furthermore, it may have taken away the division lead when the regular season ends.