Why the Ravens can make the playoffs: It boils down to their schedule and their quarterback. The Baltimore Ravens lost their first two games on the road, so they still have eight games at home where they are historically strong. Since John Harbaugh took over as coach in 2008, Baltimore has the second-best home record (45-11, .804) in the NFL behind the New England Patriots. For the Ravens to get to 10 wins, which many times will get teams into the postseason, Baltimore has to run the table at home and steal two road wins against the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns or Miami Dolphins. Beyond the games at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens have confidence in Joe Flacco, who has reached the playoffs in six of his seven NFL seasons. The only surer bets over that time have been Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Plus, during the past 10 seasons, Trent Green, Tarvaris Jackson, Chad Pennington and Cam Newton have all guided their teams to the playoffs after 0-2 starts. Even if you don't think Flacco is elite, everyone can agree he is better than those quarterbacks and is more than capable of accomplishing the same feat.
Why the Ravens won't make the playoffs: Inconsistency. The offense couldn't reach the end zone in Week 1, and the defense couldn't slow down Derek Carr in Week 2. Harbaugh described it as "playing with one arm tied behind your back." There's a lack of an identity and too many missing pieces. The Ravens have a void without the speed of first-round pick Breshad Perriman (knee injury) at wide receiver, the toughness of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (traded to Detroit) up front and the leadership of linebacker Terrell Suggs (season-ending Achilles injury). The offense has lacked a killer instinct late in games, and the defense has looked confused and frustrated. Other winless teams are getting a respite to get back on track. The Seahawks return to Seattle to face the Chicago Bears in what amounts to a homecoming game. The Ravens must play the division leader (Bengals) that has won three straight against Baltimore. Then, four days later, the Ravens have to travel to Pittsburgh to face their fiercest rival. Falling to 0-4 is not out of the question.
Predicted finish: 9-7. My contention was the Ravens needed to get out of this brutal seven-game start (which included five road games) with a 4-3 record to set themselves up favorably for the playoffs. That doesn't look like it will happen unless the Ravens can deliver an upset at Pittsburgh or at Arizona. If Baltimore gets to a 3-4 record, the Ravens would have to win seven of their last nine games to reach 10 wins. What's your confidence level that will occur after watching the Ravens' up-and-down play in the first two weeks? It's foolish to write off the Ravens completely. Baltimore lost three straight games in December in 2012 and turned it around to win the Super Bowl. This team has weathered tough spots before, and the Ravens will make a run for a playoff berth. It just feels like that devastating loss in Oakland is going to cost Baltimore in the end and keep the Ravens out of the postseason.