BALTIMORE — When the NFL schedule was released many months ago, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens probably figured they would be jockeying for playoff position among the best teams in the AFC entering today’s game against the New York Jets.
The Ravens never expected to have a losing record in late November and to be trailing the up-and-down Jets in the race for the final wild-card slot.
Baltimore (4-6) has lost four of five, and the Jets (5-5) have yet to put together a winning streak. Both teams are in the running for the postseason, yet each is teetering on the brink of failure.
“We can’t really be in any worse of a situation and still have hope,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
A loss would put Baltimore two games behind the Jets, who would then hold the tiebreaker if the teams finished tied. But New York, the first team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses over its first 10 games, is also treating this as a must-win situation.
“At the point in our season right now, it’s kind of a little make or break,” rookie quarterback Geno Smith said. “So we have to go out there and we have to win. I’m pretty sure they have the same mindset.”
“If we don’t win this game, it’s going to be pretty tough,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I can’t think of a situation this year that would be more important than this game.”
Rex Ryan served on the Ravens’ coaching staff from 1999-2008 before leaving to coach the Jets. He’s already been back to Baltimore, losing in 2011, and while he will always have warm feelings about the city, this is strictly a business trip.
“There are several people there that are friends of mine and some of the players are still there. It’ll be special to see them,” Ryan said. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to go out there and win. I want to kick their butts, just like they want to kick mine.”
The winner of the game might be the team whose quarterback makes the fewest mistakes. Flacco has a career-high 13 interceptions and is ranked 26th among NFL passers, and Smith has one touchdown pass and eight interceptions in his last five games.
The Ravens hope to exploit Smith’s inexperience, but won’t overlook his strengths.
“We are looking at Geno Smith as a playmaker,” Harbaugh said. “Geno is a big, strong, athletic quarterback. He makes the throws. That’s the thing that you see.”
For the second time this season, longtime Ravens safety Ed Reed will line up with the opposition. He was with Houston in September, and now he’s serving as the last line of defense for the Jets.