NFL-high diet of backup QBs keeps Ravens' playoff hopes on track

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are considered the favorite to capture the No. 6 and final playoff seed in the AFC because of the quarterbacks they'll face -- or more specifically, the quarterbacks they won't be facing.

Over the final seven weeks, the Ravens look set to line up against three backup quarterbacks (Green Bay's Brett Hundley, Houston's Tom Savage and Indianapolis' Jacoby Brissett), three starters (Detroit's Matthew Stafford, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton) and whomever the Browns feel like going with that week (DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan or Cody Kessler).

"Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, you are playing the backup; that is no big deal,'" Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "It is a big deal."

From the outside, the Ravens are catching some major breaks. Instead of trying to stop a two-time NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers on Sunday at Green Bay, Baltimore lines up against Hundley, who has one NFL victory. Rather than go against a rookie on a record start in Houston's Deshaun Watson, the Ravens face Savage, who also has one career win. And in place of three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck, Baltimore will take on Brissett if he lasts behind a Colts offensive line that has allowed him to get sacked 35 times in 10 games.

Playing so many backups is a big reason why the Ravens' projected chances of reaching the playoffs is 51.3 percent, according to ESPN Analytics.

From Baltimore's perspective, backups present a different challenge because of the unpredictability factor. Hundley, Savage and Brissett have made a total of 19 starts.

"Even though the other quarterback was the starter and is real good, you kind of had an idea of what he does," Pees said. "Playing a backup -- especially if he does not have a lot of game footage -- is sometimes hard, because you do not know all the habits and things that he has and how he is reading things."

Playing backup quarterbacks has been a way of life for Baltimore. Sunday's game against Hundley and the Packers would mark the fifth time the Ravens have gone against a backup, the most in the NFL this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

To put things in perspective, the New England Patriots and New York Jets each faced six quarterbacks last season who didn't start the opener for their teams, according to Elias.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs was asked whether playing so many backup quarterbacks down the stretch gives the Ravens an advantage.

"No, because we thought that earlier in the season, and it didn’t work out so well for us," Suggs said. "There is nothing more important than the team you are playing and the guy that is under center. I don’t think it really so much matters that they were backups before. They are starting now, and the guy [Hundley] is coming off a win. Momentum and confidence is everything, especially in this league. Every team we play is going to be a task we have to handle."

One reason why the Ravens are a disappointing 4-5 this season is because they haven't taken advantage of playing backup quarterbacks. Baltimore is 2-2 against them. The Ravens beat Oakland's EJ Manuel and Miami's Matt Moore, and they lost to Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky and Minnesota's Case Keenum.

"There are only a few select guys that you would know that are going in there," Suggs said. "After that, all of these guys can play in this league. Unless it is the guy up in Boston [Tom Brady], that would be a big difference [if his backup played]. But there are some other premier quarterbacks. Other than that, everybody else, it is just like, ‘They can play.’ They have been conditioned to play NFL football, so it really doesn’t matter."