The Baltimore Ravens had valid reasons for not being in the playoff hunt this year. The Ray Rice scandal, the season-ending injury to cornerback Jimmy Smith and the four-game suspension to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata all could have caused the season to unravel.
Now, there are no more excuses. The perspective has changed for the Ravens as a result of the team handling adversity and a timely turn of events at the quarterback position for the remaining opposition. With two games remaining, it would be a monumental letdown if the Ravens failed to make the playoffs. In many ways, coach John Harbaugh couldn't have laid out a more favorable path to the postseason, especially with the current state of his team's secondary.
Standing in the way of the Ravens and another trip to the playoffs are two quarterbacks who weren't starters before last week. The Ravens are going to face either Thad Lewis or Case Keenum in Houston on Sunday and likely end the season against rookie Johnny Manziel.
The Ravens' "must win" games have suddenly become "should definitely win" games. If you were wondering whether the Ravens would ever catch a break after watching cornerbacks go down on a weekly basis, it came last Sunday.
The Texans lost two quarterbacks to injuries, and the Browns watched their first-round quarterback bomb. Houston has to choose between Lewis and Keenum, neither of whom was on an active roster for the first 12 weeks of the regular season. Cleveland is sticking with Manziel, who became the first quarterback to get shut out in his first start in four years.
Of course, there are never any guaranteed victories. The closer-than-expected win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars served as a reminder of that. "Anybody that would anticipate a blowout in this league is a fool, and they don’t coach or play in this league," Harbaugh said.
Still, it's not foolish to recognize when circumstances have turned in a team's favor. And it doesn't take Bill Belichick to recognize that the Ravens are most vulnerable in pass defense (they're ranked second-to-last in the NFL). The Ravens are down to starting either Rashaan Melvin (who has appeared in one NFL game), Anthony Levine (a converted safety) or Antoine Cason (released by Carolina two weeks ago) at cornerback on Sunday.
So, there's naturally going to be more confidence in the Ravens beating the likes of Keenum and Manziel compared to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. This season, the Ravens are 3-3 against top-10 passers and 6-2 against all other quarterbacks. In the Ravens' last two losses, they gave up six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger and suffered a fourth-quarter collapse to Philip Rivers.
But the Ravens don't have to face a quarterbacks like Roethlisberger or Rivers over the next two weeks. Far from it. That's why anything less than a postseason berth would be bitter disappointment.