As the Ravens left Heinz Field on Wednesday afternoon, there was a lot to feel good about.
They played well in some of the toughest circumstances the 2020 season has offered. There were a few bright spots on the roster from areas they didn’t expect. They had a chance to knock off the unbeaten Steelers with, in essence, a JV squad.
But with five games left in the season, moral victories are out the window. The Ravens need wins, and they need them in bunches.
At 6-5, the Ravens are on the outside looking in in the AFC playoff picture. And there’s a chance they may need to win all five games to guarantee themselves a spot.
“We’re going to be solid,” safety Chuck Clark said. “We’re just going to win games from here on out. That’s all it takes. We know what our goal is, and that’s the ultimate of being a champion and winning a championship. Whether that takes 10-12 (win)] to do, I’m not sure, but we can do it.”
With seven teams in the AFC playoffs this season, the Ravens could be beneficiaries of the increased playoff format. Because right now, they could use any help they can get.
After Wednesday’s loss to the Steelers, the Ravens were officially eliminated from AFC North title contention. So for the first time since 2017, the Ravens won’t host a playoff game.
They trail the Raiders (6-5), Colts (7-4), Dolphins (7-4) and Browns (8-3) for a wild card spot . They hold the tiebreaker of the Colts, but could face trouble if the Titans (8-3) slip to a wild card spot in place of the Colts. The Ravens lost to the TItans and would lose out on a playoff spot or positioning if they finish with the same record as a second-place Titans team.
With the Patriots (5-6) just behind the Ravens in the AFC playoff chase, another tiebreaker the Ravens lose, the importance of the final five games isn’t just because of the record.
“There’s a lot of fight in this team,” left guard Bradley Bozeman said. “This team is fighters. They came in, they came into the fight, they were ready to roll. We’re going to get a lot of guys healthy back. We’re going to just build from here. This is just the beginning. So, we’re ready to work.”
Where the Ravens get a break, though, is from their schedule.
They’ll face the Cowboys (3-8), Browns (8-3), Jaguars (1-10), Giants (4-7) and Bengals (2-8-1) in the final five games. Those teams combine for a record of 18-36-1 — and without the Browns, a record of 10-33-1.
The Ravens will be favored in, at least, four of those games. By then, they’ll have the majority of their roster back from the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the organization for the last week-and-a-half. But the margin for error, if it’s not zero right now, is as close as you can get.
Down the stretch, there will be a few teams tough to reel in, too.
The Browns face the 8-3 Titans before the Ravens, but then play the Giants and Jets in back-to-back weeks before a season-ending matchup with the Steelers, who may have the AFC locked up by that point.
The simple fact of the matter is that 10 wins should be enough to get the team into the playoff. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Ravens have a 68 percent chance of making the playoffs, even at 6-5. With a win against the Cowboys next Tuesday, that percentage increases to 76 percent. A loss, and it plummets to 42 percent.
Right now, that’s simply where the Ravens are: They still control their own destiny, but a loss — to a team they shouldn’t lose to — could send the season on the brink off the rails.
“We lost,” wideout Marquise Brown said. “If you take a loss, it’s always tough. But he (coach John Harbaugh) just told us we’ve got five games left. We’ve got to play our best football in this stretch. I feel like we can do it. We’ve got the guys to do it. We’ve just got to go out there and put it on the field.”