Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to the Queen City to take on the Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens will head to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend looking to bounce back from a disappointing 24-23 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens fell to 4-3 on the season when an all-too-familiar script played out in Baltimore. The Ravens entered the fourth quarter with a 17-7 lead off the strength of a Lamar Jackson touchdown run, a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Mark Andrews, and a Justin Tucker field goal. However, the defense which had been spectacular leading up to the fourth quarter, allowed 17 unanswered points while the offense couldn’t get out of neutral as the Saints took a 24-17 lead with 2:07 to go in the game.

Flacco went to work on the next drive, marching the Ravens 81 yards in six plays and completing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to cut the lead to 24-23 with 24 seconds remaining. Brown had a massive day receiving hauling in seven passes for 134 yards and that touchdown. Someone predicted that.

Everyone inside and outside M&T Bank Stadium knew what would happen next. Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, would boot through his 223’rd consecutive extra point and the Ravens would hope for overtime with :24 seconds remaining. And then this happened:

The reactions say it all.

So the Ravens are on to Carolina looking to upend a 4-2 Panthers team that had a fourth quarter rally of their own, scoring 21 points against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles to win 21-17 in Philly.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest in Charlotte.

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Coach Harbaugh and his Ravens need a big performance this Sunday in Carolina with a tough schedule looming. Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is it a must win game?

When Tucker’s extra point failed and the Ravens fell to 4-3, this upcoming game against the Panthers may have become a must-win.

Here’s why. In the NFL, losing more than six games all but seals your playoff fate. Since 2012, there have been eight teams to earn playoff berths with seven or more losses. That breaks down to five division champions and three Wild Card berths, two of which were earned last season by the Bills and the Dolphins and the other being earned in 2013 by the Chargers. Just two of the last six seasons have produced a seven or more loss Wild Card team.

Since the AFC North was formed in 2002, there has never been a division champion with fewer than 10 wins. It has taken 11+ victories to win the division in 11 of the 16 years that the division has been in existence. In other words, nine wins isn’t going to be enough for the Ravens to win the AFC North. This becomes further the case when you consider Pittsburgh’s tie is likely to benefit them. A nine win Steelers team gets in over a 9-7 Ravens or Bengals team.

Year AFC North Winner Record
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–5–1
2003 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15–1–0
2005 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2006 Baltimore Ravens 13–3–0
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2011 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2015 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0
2016 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 13–3–0

Is it possible with a loss on Sunday, that the Ravens could go 6-2 in the back half of the season to get to the magic number of 10 wins? Of course it is. But road contests are looming with the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens would need to win one of those games and be perfect at home. The home slate includes division match ups with the Pittsburgh Steelers next week, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 11), and Cleveland Browns (Week 17). The other home contests are the Oakland Raiders (Week 12), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 15).

A loss Sunday all but ends the Ravens division hopes if history is any indication. A Wild Card berth could remain in the cards, but the Chiefs and Chargers are both likely making the playoffs leaving just one Wild Card berth available. Can a seven loss team sneak in there? Certainly possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Ravens very well could be in a must-win game this Sunday.

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The Ravens defense will be looking to start another sack party this Sunday after a rocky performance against the Saints. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the Ravens contain Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

For the second week in a row the Ravens will face one of the NFL’S top quarterbacks when they take on Cam Newton this Sunday. Newton has the Panthers at 4-2 this season and he is once again putting together another Pro-Bowl caliber season.

He is completing 65% of his passes which would set his career high. He has 14 total touchdowns in six games and has thrown just four interceptions. He is the best dual threat quarterback in the game and he will present a huge challenge for a Ravens defense coming off their biggest challenge of the season.

The 2015 NFL MVP is 37-20 lifetime at home in the regular season and the Panthers have won eight straight games at Bank of America Stadium.

A big thing to watch for this week is how Ravens number one cornerback Jimmy Smith responds after the worst performance of his career. Michael Thomas’ numbers may not have been flashy (seven receptions, 69 yards and a touchdown) but Smith also committed two pass interference penalties and whiffed on a sack attempt that allowed Drew Brees to pick up a key conversion. Smith was accountable after the game:

There was plenty of blame to go around after Sunday’s game. The Ravens mustered just one sack after their franchise record-breaking 11 against the Titans. They gave up 17 points in fourth quarter which is nearly double what they had given up in the fourth quarter/overtime in the first six games combined.

The defense is in a good spot to get back to the domination we have been accustomed to against a Carolina offense that ranks 18th in total offense, 22nd in passing offense, and 18th in points-per-game. Their biggest threats on offense are running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen. If the Ravens can do a good job on those two players, they should be able to come out on top.

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens

More consistency is needed from the Ravens offense if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the offense pick up the pace?

As those of you who read these articles weekly and listen to the Charm City Bird Watch podcast should already know (thanks for doing both), I am a major supporter of Flacco. If you’re new here (thanks for popping in keep doing it), now you know as well. That doesn’t mean that he is not subject to criticism.

When the Saints cut the lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens offense responded with a three-and-out on a drive that ended with Flacco taking a sack on his own 15-yard line. The Saints would score on their next possession to take a 21-17 lead thanks to a short field and the offense again failed to get points, going nine plays this time but ultimately turning it over on downs. Flacco was 2-for-9 on those two drives and took a sack inside of his own 20-yard line.

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Joe Flacco led a big time drive to presumably tie the game against the Saints. But he and the offense could’ve helped the Ravens avoid the need for it. Image Credit: USA Today

Flacco played a great game on Sunday, one of his best of the year. His poise to lead the team down the field for the game-tying (we thought) touchdown after his offense and the Ravens defense faltered, should be applauded. Flacco is in the midst of having his best season yet but simply put the Ravens will need more consistency from Flacco and the offense this week if they want to emerge victorious in Carolina.

They will meet a Carolina defense that ranks 13th in total defense, 17th in passing yards allowed, and tenth in points-per-game allowed. Luke Kuechly and company are stout against the run, ranking ninth in the league. Flacco will need to throw early and often for the Ravens to come out on top.

Predictions:

Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Panthers 17

Nolan McGraw– Panthers 19 Ravens 16

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 20 Panthers 19

Ian Schultz– Ravens 24 Panthers 20

I know I picked the Panthers on the podcast but this is a massive game for the Ravens. A win in this game keeps them on track for ten wins which should be enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs. Flacco and the offense are able to put just enough points on the board in Carolina this Sunday and the Ravens get to 5-3 ahead of their week nine showdown with the Steelers.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sports and Life

 

 

 

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