With the home stretch of the 2023 NFL season coming into full view, the Baltimore Ravens not only have their sights set on the postseason, but also a deep playoff run into January.
However, can they parlay their 8-3 record into the top spot in the AFC to begin the playoffs?
The Ravens received a significant boost to their efforts from the Philadelphia Eagles, who handed the Kansas City Chiefs a 21-17 defeat on Monday night at GHEA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. As a result, Baltimore now holds the first-place spot in the conference.
Accordingly, at least one NFL analyst believes there is a decent chance of the 'Birds securing the No. 1 seed for their upcoming postseason appearance.
In his latest playoff prediction, Sports Illustrated's Matt Verderame projects the Ravens' 34-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals as a possible catalyst for the team to maintain their lead over the defending Super Bowl champion-Chiefs, while cementing their position as eventual division champions.
"After beating the Bengals, it’s hard to believe the Ravens won’t win the AFC North," Verderame wrote. "The main question is 'Can Baltimore find its way to the conference’s top seed?' The loss of tight end Mark Andrews doesn’t help, while Baltimore’s schedule still includes trips to Jacksonville and San Francisco."
If the playoffs began today, the AFC North would be sending three teams to the playoffs: the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. While both Pittsburgh and Cleveland have surprised more than a handful of critics, the Ravens have exceeded their lofty expectations by rising to the top of the AFC on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday. Led by quarterback Lamar Jackson -- who has compiled 2,441 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, while completing 61.5 percent of his passes -- Baltimore has won with sound play in all three phases. Their familiar formula has led to impressive victories over the Browns (Week 4,) Detroit Lions (Week 7) and Seattle Seahawks (Week 9,) as well as two AFC North victories over the Bengals.
Still, as Verderame noted, the Ravens have some difficult matchups remaining on their schedule, including back-to-back road games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers, in Weeks 15 and 16 respectively. Baltimore will close the season with consecutive home contests -- hosting the playoff-bound Miami Dolphins on New Year's Eve and closing the season with their second game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens lost their first game against the Steelers 17-10 in Week 5.
While rookie receiver Zay Flowers and veteran Odell Beckham, Jr. have provided Jackson with a pair of formidable pass-catchers, the loss of tight end Mark Andrews may temporarily disrupt Baltimore's rhythm on offense. Ravens coach John Harbaugh provided a surprise update on Andrews on Monday, saying there's "an outside chance" that the three-time Pro Bowl tight end could return at some point this season. This glimmer of hope comes four days after Ravens officials had thought Andrews suffered a season-ending left ankle injury during Thursday's win over the Bengals.
Whether Andrews returns or not, Baltimore appears to be in prime position to become the AFC's top team for the first time since 2019.