Late for Work 12/16: Ravens Best AFC Team? Let’s Talk Monday

No more complaining about ‘Great Purge,’ Week 15 picks, can Harbaughs really help each other?

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Friday, December 16th, 2011 at 8:55 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Ravens Best AFC Team? Let’s Talk Monday

There are four 10-3 teams left in the AFC: the Ravens, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Which one is the best?

Well, former NFL general manager and CSN analyst Charlie Casserly is predicting the Ravens will advance to the Super Bowl.

And Baltimore is getting plenty of love in power rankings with most experts listing the Ravens at No. 2, only behind the NFC’s top-ranked Green Bay Packers.

Still, nobody from the NFL Network’s “No Huddle” crew believes the Ravens will be the 10-3 team that advances the furthest in the playoffs.

Despite the Ravens’ regular-season sweep of Pittsburgh, Deion Sanders still “loves” the Steelers.

“To me it’s hard to beat a team three times,” said Sanders. “You can get me twice, but the third time? Ooooohhhh, I’m lying in the weeds.”

Baltimore also beat the Texans on the road in Houston when quarterback Matt Schaub was still under center. Now Houston’s offense is led by the backup to the backup, rookie T.J. Yates, but Warren Sapp still likes the Texans advancing the furthest in the postseason.

“My feeling about it?” asked CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg. “Let’s talk Monday.”

Eisenberg is reserving final judgment until he sees what Baltimore can do against the Chargers Sunday night because, as he sees it, San Diego poses the kind of test the Ravens have yet to face in 2011.

“You can look it up,” the columnist writes.

The Ravens defense may lead the league in many statistical categories, but the unit hasn’t faced any of the league’s top-seven offenses: the Saints, Patriots, Packers, Eagles, Panthers, Cowboys and Giants.

The Chargers’ eighth-ranked offense will be the highest rated Terrell Suggs and Co. have battled.

“If the Ravens clear that [Chargers] hurdle, they’ll still need to defeat division-rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati in their final two games to lock up a division title and high playoff seed,” wrote Eisenberg. “But they have already beaten both those teams this season.

“This Sunday’s game is the big one.”

Week 15 Ravens-Chargers Picks

Twenty-seven of 34 analysts below are picking the Ravens to return from the West Coast with a win.

 

Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

 NBC Game Preview

Those who believe Baltimore can capture the victory say the team is focused on getting the No. 1 seed and have a sense of urgency.

But many of those who believe the Ravens will stumble envision them reverting back to committing the same mistakes they made in Seattle, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

“Baltimore’s inconsistency on the road this year gives me too much pause,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, who predicted a 28-24 victory for the Chargers.

“This clearly is the pivotal weekend in the chase for the AFC North title and top two seeds in the conference. The Ravens have won all of their must-win games this year, so they should win this one,” argued Peter Schmuck, who sees a 23-17 win for Baltimore.

Below is a roundup of picks from around the web, along with a preview from the Sunday Night Football crew.

Baltimore Sun: Five of seven pick the Ravens
ESPN: Six of eight pick the Ravens
SI.com’s Peter King: Ravens 26, Chargers 24
USA Today: Seven of eight pick the Ravens
Yahoo! Sports: Two of three pick the Ravens
PFT.com: Two of two pick the Ravens
CBSSports.com: Four of five pick the Ravens

No More Complaining About ‘The Great Purge’

Eisenberg calls it “The Great Purge.”

He’s referring to the decision made by General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Ravens brass to release four veterans when training camp began: Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg.

“The Ravens took some heat, especially for parting ways with Mason and Heap, the franchise’s top two all-time pass receivers,” wrote Eisenberg. “Well, no one is complaining anymore.”

Mason is now without an NFL team after he signed with the New York Jets, who traded him to the Texans, who just cut him last Monday. Meanwhile, Torrey Smith has been a solid complement to Anquan Boldin and has forced opponents to respect the Ravens’ vertical game.

A hamstring injury has set Heap back, who hasn’t caught a pass since Oct. 2. In Baltimore, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have excelled.

Gregg signed with Kansas City. And so did Le’Ron McClain, who the Ravens decided not to bring back and opted to sign Vonta Leach instead. Their new team is in last place in the AFC West.

Eisenberg admits McGahee is having an “excellent” season, but says the Ravens did the right thing by letting him go because they saved $4 million dollars and Ray Rice and Ricky Williams are a solid one-two punch.

“The Great Purge of 2011 looks like a no-brainer now,” wrote Eisenberg. “Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome can take a bow.”

How Helpful Will Harbaugh Brothers’ Team-Up Be?

Head Coach John Harbaugh admitted this week that, while he’s more concerned with the Chargers, he would chat with his brother Jim, head coach of the 49ers, to offer pointers on beating the Steelers Monday night.

John could use his brother’s help by handing the Steelers its fourth loss of the season and possibly creating some separation in the division.

But how much can John really help Jim?

“I don’t know how beneficial it is because the Ravens on offense have nothing to do with the 49ers on offense, and there’s no guarantee the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to play the 49ers like they played the Ravens, so you’ve got to be careful doing your work on the telephone,” former NFL coach and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said.

“I’ve always been reluctant to do that. I really think this game here is a totally different set of circumstances than what the Ravens saw from the Steelers in their two ballgames. I guess to answer your question, I never put a lot of stock into that.”

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