When the Ravens entered their bye week at 4-5, a number of fans were despondent. But another group looked at the realities of the Ravens' schedule coming out of the bye (including the Week 11 date with a Brett Hundley-lead Packers team that already went into the books as a 23-0 win) and the lack of quality AFC playoff contenders and felt good about the team's postseason chances.
That group begat a third group of fans -- a group I'm not sure I've ever met before this moment. The third group is the group that genuinely believes the Ravens will make the playoffs this season ... and it terrifies them.
"I'm in a weird spot with the Ravens because if they win football games, I think it's worse for the team long-term."
Those were the words of Glenn Clark Radio listener "Ron in Owings Mills, Md.," when he called into the show Nov. 20. They spoke to this phenomenon. Ron isn't alone. There are a number of Ravens fans who are terrified of the consequences of the Ravens making the postseason. And their fear is justified.
To understand this unique situation, you have to be able to take a broader look at where the team/franchise sits.
Yes, the Ravens' playoff chances look very good right now. They're 5-5 with only two particularly decent opponents remaining on the schedule (the Steelers on the road, the Lions at home). It would be unfathomable for them to lose more than a couple of games the rest of the season, considering the rest of the quarterbacks they're scheduled to face are the Houston Texans' Tom Savage, Indianapolis Colts' Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns' Deshone Kizer and Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton.
There's a very real possibility the Ravens could make the postseason at 9-7 having gone through a season where the best quarterback they beat was … Dalton. It's arguably the most likely scenario at this point.
So fans are presented with this conundrum. Would they want to see a team that doesn't truly appear to be worthy of making the playoffs end up getting there simply because the rest of the conference was mediocre and its opponents suffered crippling quarterback injuries? Would they believe the Ravens had any actual opportunity to win a playoff game against a quality opponent? And if the Ravens end up making the postseason, will the front office view that as an accomplishment worthy of making no significant change this offseason and instead rolling the same group of players, coaches and front office personnel out there with the same philosophical strategy next season?
You see why this is a weird feeling for some Ravens fans?
There's no guarantee the Ravens making the playoffs means they wouldn't fire offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, head coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome or overhaul their offense. There's also no guarantee that if they miss the postseason they actually will make any of those drastic changes. But not every fan in this group is looking for a total overhaul of the organization. For many of them, just an acknowledgement from the franchise that things aren't working and a commitment to improving offensively would be enough.
It's a fascinating situation.
Should the Ravens manage to go into Pittsburgh in a few weeks and dominate a Steelers offense that is still very good at home, it would probably change a number of these fans' minds. Part of the issue is total disbelief that the team is capable of beating the best teams during the postseason. A win against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field would go a long way to squashing that. Unfortunately, that's the only game left on the schedule that can really make anyone feel differently about the Ravens in a positive way.
Which brings us back to the very real possibility that a mediocre team with mediocre talent could make the playoffs, get eliminated quickly and yet end up doing everything the same way next year.
Is that an acceptable outcome? Is that truly what's best for the franchise?
As a columnist, I feel an obligation to answer my own questions here. But the answer is ... I'm not sure. I know I'm definitely not rooting against the Ravens the rest of the season. I want to see linebacker Matt Judon look like a potential stud pass rusher against a quarterback who actually has any amount of pocket awareness (i.e. not Brett Hundley). I want receiver Breshad Perriman to end up back on the field and looking ... competent? Decent? Good? Competent is fine. I want tight end Maxx Williams to do ... something. Anything. Anything at all.
I want the Ravens to continue developing talent and building toward winning a Super Bowl. But I have some fear that a playoff run in 2017 could end up making a potential Super Bowl run in 2019 less likely because the result proved to be fool's gold.
So, yeah, I'm a little afraid of a potential playoff appearance from this team. But hopefully its performance throughout the next few weeks makes that fear dissipate.
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