Late For Work 1/2: Ravens To Battle Denver, Houston Or Pit.

Analysts like Ravens’ Super Bowl chances, Reed’s missed tackle, Cundiff validates decision.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, January 2nd, 2012 at 9:02 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Ravens To Battle Denver, Houston Or Pit.

Ben Roethlisberger. Tim Tebow. T.J. Yates.

One of those three quarterbacks will visit M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are undefeated, on Sunday, January 15 at 1 p.m. (Yates says he’ll play despite suffering a shoulder injury Sunday.)

The Ravens will face the highest-seeded winner from the wild-card round, while the Patriots will get the lowest-seeded winner in Foxborough.

So here’s how you sum up the Ravens’ divisional-round scenarios: If the Bengals beat the Texans, then the Ravens will face the winner of the Steelers-Broncos matchup. But if Houston wins, the Texans will jump on a plane to Baltimore.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made a prediction after the Ravens swept the Steelers in Week 9, saying Baltimore would see Roethlisberger and Co. again.

Could it happen in the divisional round?

It depends on how it all shakes out. Here’s a quick AFC wild-card preview:

No. 5 Pittsburgh (12-4) at No. 4 Denver (8-8)
When: Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS

“The struggling Denver offense will have its hands full next weekend,” wrote NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison. “The Steelers’ defense has been outstanding following some early season struggles against the run. Dick Lebeau’s unit finished the season as the league’s top-ranked unit, while the run defense came in at a very respectable ninth. That’s more than relevant when juxtaposed with the Broncos’ ground-heavy offense. Expect the Steelers to take away the outside scampers from Tim Tebow, and force him to throw from the pocket.”

No. 6 Cincinnati (9-7) at No. 3 Houston (10-6)
When:
Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC

“The most interesting storyline in a game that features two clubs backing into the playoffs: their previous meeting was the last game the Texans won,” wrote Harrison. “While the Bengals defense has to do a better job containing Yates, the game might rest on how rookie Andy Dalton deals with Wade Phillips’ pressure-based 3-4 defense. Cincinnati’s game plan in the first meeting was to utilize the ground game, calling 29 runs and 29 passes. Expect a similar mixture in a loud road environment.”

Analysts Like Ravens’ Super Bowl Chances

You can divide the AFC’s six playoff contenders into two groups, says ESPN’s John Clayton.

The haves. And the have-nots.

“The AFC playoffs feature extremes,” wrote Clayton. “In fact, only three teams look like playoff teams – the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. You have three teams that look mediocre – the Broncos, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals.

“There is an extreme division at quarterback. You have three of the top quarterbacks in the conference in the playoffs – Tom Brady (Patriots), Roethlisberger (Steelers) and Joe Flacco (Ravens). Then you have three young quarterbacks –Tebow (Broncos) and rookies Yates (Texans) and Dalton (Bengals).”

Of the top three teams, Clayton is worried about the Steelers because of the injuries to Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain) and now starting running back Rashard Mendenhall (set to undergo an MRI to see if he tore his ACL). Thus, he envisions a Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship game.

Three others – Michael David Smith (PFT.com), Gregg Doyel (CBSSports.com) and Don Banks (SI.com) – can see the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

“The Ravens absolutely look like, not just a playoff team, but a team that can contend for a title,” wrote Smith. “The Ravens will be a tough out in the playoffs.”

“The Ravens have the talent and experience to expect a Super Bowl berth,” added Doyel.

For Banks, he feels the AFC championship is there for anyone’s taking because there isn’t a single team that looks like the dominant force. He gives the edge to the Ravens, but only because of his preseason predictions.

“I also can’t recall the last time the AFC playoff field felt this wide open, with New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh all clumped so closely together in the conference’s elite class,” wrote Banks. “I picked the Ravens to make it to Indianapolis in the preseason, to face Green Bay, so I’ll stick with that early September stab.

“But I really don’t love anyone in the AFC this year. And I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.”

Super Bowl Run Hinges On Rice

Is there anything running back Ray Rice can’t do?

He was the jolt needed to begin the Ravens’ 24-16 victory over the Bengals with a 70-yard touchdown run. And he was the knockout punch with a 51-yard score in the fourth.

“When the Ravens put on their AFC North champion t-shirts, I wondered whether it was Rice who made them,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “It seems like he does everything for Baltimore these days.”

Rice has largely carried the Ravens’ offense in December. And if the Ravens want to make an appearance in Indianapolis, Hensley says the Ravens need to keep feeding Rice the rock.

“The stats say it. The players even acknowledge it,” wrote Hensley. “The Ravens’ Super Bowl run relies on their smallest player by stature but their biggest one in terms of playmaking ability.

“The motto of the Ravens’ postseason has to be: ‘Run, Ray, run.’”

PFT Picks Suggs For Defensive Player Of The Year

The Associated Press won’t unveil its postseason awards until the week before the Super Bowl.

But ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio is beating the AP to the punch and named his award winners just after the conclusion of the regular season.

And Terrell Suggs is the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year in Florio’s estimation.

Suggs beat out Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

“Tying for fifth in sacks and delivering three of them in a season-opening shellacking of the Steelers and during the prime-time Harbowl on Thanksgiving night, Suggs has become the latest great player on a Ravens defense that is poised to make a serious run at a Super Bowl,” wrote Florio. 

“He did enough to squeak past Pierre-Paul, who went from first-round project in 2010 to Pro Bowler (who wasn’t even on the ballot) in 2011. Disruptive and showing the kind of potential that could make him the franchise’s best defensive player since Michael Strahan or maybe Lawrence Taylor, Pierre-Paul will win this award once or twice, eventually. But for the fact that the Vikings won only three games this year, Allen would have captured this award easily.”

Reed Misses Tackle; Acknowledges Shoulder Hurting

Safety Ed Reed tried stopping Bengals running back Bernard Scott on his way to the end zone in the third quarter yesterday.

But Scott broke Reed’s arm tackle and trotted 25 yards for the touchdown.

Reed is dealing with a nerve impingement in his neck, but he said it’s his shoulder injury that’s bothering him, according to Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson.

“It ain’t so much the nerve impingement as it was my shoulder,” Reed told Wilson. “On that particular play, when I hit the guy and bounced off, it was just a bad angle.

“I can’t do that. I understand that. I’m just as hard a critic as anybody. Just got to have better angles.”

Wilson believes Reed’s lack of tackling has “increasingly become a more critical factor as Baltimore makes its push for the postseason.”

Cundiff Validates Decision

Head Coach John Harbaugh’s decision to start kicker Billy Cundiff over Shayne Graham was “mildly surprising” but was “validated” says CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg.

Cundiff was inactive for last week’s game against Cleveland because of an injured calf. Graham filled in nicely, converting 43- and 48-yard field goals.

But Harbaugh went with his Pro Bowl kicker on Sunday, betting he was healed and ready.

“The Ravens looked smart when Cundiff nailed a 43-yard attempt in the first quarter, looking as sharp as he did earlier in 2011, before he suffered his injury,” wrote Eisenberg.

“Thanks for the kicks last week, Shayne Graham, but I’m taking Billy Cundiff at M&T Bank Stadium all day,” added The Baltimore Sun’s Matt Vensel.

Quick Hits

  • “This competitive sibling rivalry the Harbaugh brothers have going on is getting ridiculous,” wrote Banks. “Now Jim and John even have to match playoff seeds in their own little personal battle for one-upmanship. Jim’s 49ers won at St. Louis to lock up the NFC’s No. 2 seed, so naturally, John’s Ravens had to follow suit, winning at Cincinnati to sew up the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Where will this end? Maybe Indianapolis. Imagine that.” [SI.com]
  • “Ravens coach John Harbaugh executed one of his best replay challenges of the season in the second quarter, killing a Cincinnati possession in the process,” wrote Eisenberg. [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • untouchablejay4: SUPERBOWL IS GOAL AND WE’RE HEADING FOR THE PYLON!!!!!!! [Twitter]
  • AdamSchefter: Trent Dilfer on ESPN’s SportsCenter: “I can’t see the Patriots making the Super Bowl.” [Twitter]
  • deemason85: One day I will open up and tell my side of story but for now, I’ll let those who so called know “what went on” tell there (sic) story. Haha [Twitter]
  • JasonLaCanfora: So it’s Steelers/Broncos and Bengals/Texans in the AFC next week. First thought is I like the road AFC North team in both
  • Beware of the Bengals,” writes Clark Judge. “They’re playing with house money at this point anyway, and that alone makes them dangerous.” [CBSSports.com]
  • “Tight end Ed Dickson is a great athlete and he is more of a big-play threat than [Dennis] Pitta,” wrote Matt Vensel. “But Pitta’s role in this offense will continue to grow thanks to his reliable hands and his ability to pick up yards after the catch by putting his head down and bowling over defenders.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • Congrats to Ricky Williams, who passed the 10,000-yard rushing milestone against the Bengals,” added Vensel. “Brought in as a free agent, Williams got the job done in 2011, rushing for 444 yards and two touchdowns on 108 carries.” [The Baltimore Sun]

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