Roughly halfway through the 2021 NFL season, and the Baltimore Ravens were feeling on top of the world. They were first in the AFC North, Lamar Jackson was playing at an MVP-level, the defense was playing well enough to win games, and almost every projection model had them pinned for a playoff appearance.
Fast forward to Week 16, and the Ravens’ season has performed a complete 180. They’ve lost three games in a row and are the current No. 8 seed in the AFC — on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason.
Lamar Jackson’s injury is persisting
The Ravens have suffered several significant injuries this season. They’ve lost starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, etc. It’s been one major injury after the other, which explains the team’s recent skid as of late.
However, it’s Baltimore’s latest injury that’s doing the most damage to the Ravens’ current postseason odds. They lost starting quarterback Lamar Jackson to an ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns in Week 14, and it doesn’t seem to be improving at a reasonable rate.
Jackson missed the Ravens’ Week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers (albeit backup Tyler Huntley subbed in admirably well). He also missed all of practice this past week and didn’t travel with the team for their crucial Week 16 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Third-string quarterback Josh Johnson will be subbing in for Jackson instead, which is obviously not great for the Ravens’ overall chances of winning.
The Ravens’ playoff chances are dwindling
At 8-6, tied with the No. 7 and No. 6 seeds in terms of records, the Ravens are seemingly not in that bad of a position. Despite all their injuries and recent losing streak, they’re still within striking distance of a Wild Card spot.
However, without Jackson, their odds of sneaking in feel incredibly slim.
After they face the Bengals this weekend (with a third-string quarterback under center), they have to turn around and face the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals are trying to secure a division title, the Rams are gunning hard for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and the Steelers are surging for their own respective wild card spot.
All three of these games have massive implications for the Ravens’ postseason seeding, and all three will undoubtedly be challenging. Potentially playing them without Jackson makes it that much more challenging.
The Ravens are smart for playing it safe with Lamar Jackson
While Ravens fans presumably want their star quarterback back on the field as soon as possible, Baltimore is ultimately smart to play it safe. The Ravens’ postseason chances were starting to dwindle even before Jackson went down due to all the other injuries — there’s little point in forcing Jackson to play injured during a somewhat lost season.
There’s still a tiny chance Jackson returns for the final two weeks of the season and does enough to sneak the Ravens into the postseason. However, a potential fourth-straight loss at the hands of the Bengals this weekend certainly lowers the possibility of this happening.