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Ravens are alive and well in playoff race, despite glaring weaknesses

A bad offense hasn’t stopped Baltimore from improving to 6-5 on the year.

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not exactly a hot take to say that the Baltimore Ravens have severe flaws. Despite being above .500, their offense has ranged from mediocre to putrid for much of the season, and they’re lucky enough to be dragged by an elite defense nearly every week.

Those flaws were on display in Monday night’s game against the Houston Texans. Joe Flacco remained erratic with his accuracy, with most of his deep balls wildly off target. As a result, the Ravens have little-to-no resemblance of a downfield passing game, relying on short routes and dumpoffs to their running backs. Their leading receiver was Mike Wallace, who finished with five catches for 48 yards (24 of them coming on one play). It wasn’t a pretty sight if you like functional offenses.

However, the Baltimore defense did its job once again, forcing Tom Savage into three turnovers and keeping the Texans in check all night. The Ravens used three Justin Tucker field goals (and a little trickery) to grind out a 23-16 victory.

That win puts the Ravens at 6-5 and above the rest of the field in the AFC Wild Card picture. If the season ended now, they’d have the No. 6 seed, ahead of the Buffalo Bills (also 6-5) due to a conference record tiebreaker.

In short, the Ravens are playing uninspired football, but that’s par for the course in an uninspired year for the AFC. To give you an idea how deep the Wild Card race is, here are the teams right behind the Ravens and Bills in the conference standings.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)
Oakland Raiders (5-6)
New York Jets (4-7)
Miami Dolphins (4-7)

Yes, the Bengals and Chargers — both left for dead after 0-3 and 0-4 starts, respectively — could end up being major players in December. Even the Raiders are still hanging around, despite an underachieving offense and terrible defense. And the Jets and Dolphins are just two games back, even though by all rights, they’re playing out the string.

Compare this to the NFC, where the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints (both 8-3) wouldn’t even get a bye week if the playoffs started now. The 8-3 Carolina Panthers wouldn’t win their division, while the 7-4 Seattle Seahawks would be left out entirely. In other words, count your blessings if you’re a mediocre AFC team, because 9-7 just might be good enough to sneak in this year.

So yeah, the Ravens’ flaws are well-documented at this point. A painfully horizontal offense, combined with a quarterback in obvious decline, means that they probably won’t last long in January. There’s no way this is a good long-term strategy, and at some point they gotta get serious about finding Flacco’s successor (he’s not getting less bad no matter how much you’re paying him).

But in the 2017 AFC? The Ravens are perfectly fine, to the point where they could walk to the postseason comfortably. And with that defense, they might give a team or two a scare. This Ravens team is hardly fun to watch, but its strengths are good enough to carry its weaknesses, and that’s a lot more than most would-be contenders can say this season.

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