<
>

Anniversary to forget? Ravens look to avoid worst record in 20th season

John Harbaugh on the Ravens' remote postseason possibilities: "Miracles do happen in terms of outcomes." AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Even with the Baltimore Ravens falling to 4-8, coach John Harbaugh refuses to concede from the playoff race.

"Miracles do happen in terms of outcomes," Harbaugh said.

The more realistic goal for the Ravens is to avoid matching the franchise's worst record in the 20th anniversary season. Baltimore will be an underdog in its final four games, which all come against some of the league's hottest teams: the Seattle Seahawks (7-5), Kansas City Chiefs (7-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (10-2).

According to ESPN's Football Power Index, here are the Ravens' chances to win each of their last four games of the regular season:

  • vs. Seattle, 36.9 percent

  • vs. Kansas City, 38.6 percent

  • vs. Pittsburgh, 37.3 percent

  • at Cincinnati, 22.1 percent

If Baltimore loses all four of those games -- which is a viable scenario despite three games at M&T Bank Stadium -- this team would match the 1996 Ravens, who went a franchise-worst 4-12 in their inaugural season. That was when Ted Marchibroda was the coach, Vinny Testaverde was the quarterback and a rookie named Ray Lewis roamed the middle of the defense.

This year's Ravens have dealt with significant injuries, questionable officiating calls and now even a suspension to tight end Nick Boyle. Through it all, Baltimore has kept it close, losing eight games by a combined 34 points. The Ravens are the first team in NFL history to have their first 12 games decided by eight points or fewer.

But an argument can be made that this is the Ravens' toughest stretch, even more than playing five of the first seven games on the road. The challenge of the next four games is the level of competition and not location. Since the start of November, the Seahawks, Chiefs, Steelers and Bengals are a combined 16-5 (.761). They all won Sunday by a combined score of 154-40, an average margin of victory of 28.5 points.

All are in playoff contention, and Cincinnati, Kansas City and Seattle would make the postseason if the season ended today. But Baltimore isn't driven by being a spoiler in the last quarter of the regular season.

"It's all about our team," Harbaugh said. "We don't get involved in that kind of thinking -- ever. I don't think that's much of a motivator for anybody."

One more loss would clinch the Ravens' first losing season in Harbaugh's eight years in Baltimore. Two more defeats would be Baltimore's first double-digit losses since 2007, the final season for Brian Billick as coach.

What Harbaugh takes great pride in is how the players have refused "to blink" in a difficult season. How the Ravens fare against potential playoff teams in the final four weeks could build momentum heading into 2016.

"All season long it hasn’t been going our way," Harbaugh said. "We don’t make excuses. It’s our job to create our own good fortune. We understand that, and we strive for that."