After a fierce race in the AFC North all season, the Baltimore Ravens clinched the division title on Sunday beating the Cincinnati Bengals. It is Baltimore’s first division title since 2006.
The Pittsburgh Steelers challenged Baltimore all year keeping pace with them in the win column. Baltimore, however, defeated Pittsburgh twice, which hasn’t happened since, again 2006, giving the Ravens the tiebreaker. Both teams held on for wins in Ohio on Sunday and finished the regular season 12-4.
This is Baltimore’s fourth consecutive season making the playoffs all of which have come since hiring head coach John Harbaugh and drafting quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens are 48-23 during that span, and this season’s 12-4 record ties last year’s mark as their best regular season.
In each of the three previous seasons, Baltimore has also won at least one playoff game. Amazingly, every single one of them has been on the road. Because Baltimore usually falls short of winning the division title, it almost guarantees that they have to win three games all on the road to get to the Super Bowl.
The 2011 postseason will be different; not only does Baltimore get to play a home game, they also have a first round bye. If they continue the trend of winning at least one playoff game, the Ravens will at least find themselves in the AFC Championship game. The home field advantage couldn’t have come at a better time for Baltimore. The Ravens lost all four of their games on the road in 2011.
On the flip side, the Ravens haven’t lost a game in Baltimore in over a year now. Their defense is ranked third in yards allowed giving up 285.7 per game and points allowed surrendering 16.7 per game. The Ravens also finished third in the NFL in sacks with 48.
Although Flacco has been inconsistent at times, when he does play well, he looks like one of the best in the league. He drove the team 92 yards inside of two minutes to play to win the second game against Pittsburgh. It was also in front of a hostile Steelers crowd at Heinz Field. That drive could be a season defining or who knows, a career defining one if Baltimore ends up winning Super Bowl XLVI.
Luckily, Flacco doesn’t usually have to carry the offense all by himself. Running back Ray Rice had a stellar season with 1,364 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He had two long runs in the season finale that went for touchdowns helping to secure the division.
Of course, playing at home won’t guarantee a Raven victory. Since 2001, Baltimore has lost their only two home playoff games while going 5-4 on the road. In fact, two of their three playoff wins in 2000 on their way to the Super Bowl came on the road.
Don’t expect the same result from this Raven team. With a ferocious defense, a clicking offense and a rambunctious home crowd, any road team will have a hard time winning in Baltimore this January.