Posted: Sunday January 2, 2011 8:13PM ; Updated: Sunday January 2, 2011 10:38PM
Don Banks
Don Banks>INSIDE THE NFL

The Ravens' palatable playoff draw, coaching ins & outs, more Snaps

Story Highlights

The No. 5 Ravens dodged a playoff bullet by missing the Colts next week

Non-playoff-finish aside, the 10-6 Bucs had a highly productive year in 2010

Tom Cable's days with Oakland may be numbered, despite a 6-0 divisional mark

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Ray Rice (77 yards, 1 TD vs. Cincy) and the playoff-tested Ravens will likely be road favorites against the Chiefs next week.
Larry French/Getty Images

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take in a 16-game NFL Sunday in which 16 teams entered game No. 16 with their Super Bowl chances still alive ...

• The Ravens were 13-7 victors in unimpressive fashion Sunday at home against Cincinnati, but their biggest win of the day may have unfolded half a continent away in Kansas City. That's where the Raiders humbled the hometown Chiefs, 31-10, a result that wound up knocking Kansas City from the No. 3 to No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs.

What's that got to do with the Ravens? Plenty, because No. 5 Baltimore now opens its postseason next week at Kansas City, rather than at Indianapolis. That's a fortuitous turn of events for the Ravens, because if there's one quarterback who has had his way with Baltimore's defense over the years, it's Peyton Manning.

Baltimore hasn't defeated Manning since 2001, and Indianapolis has ended the Ravens' season in the playoffs twice in the past four years. In 2006, the Colts won at Baltimore in the divisional round, upsetting the No. 2 Ravens 15-6 and ending their 13-3 season in one-and-done fashion. Last year, the top-seeded Colts got Baltimore again in the divisional round, beating the Ravens 20-3 in a game that didn't seem as close as the score would indicate. The Ravens also lost 17-15 to Indianapolis in the 2009 regular season, in late November.

The Ravens (12-4) are a prideful bunch and maybe they wanted to get another shot at the injury-depleted Colts, especially with Indianapolis being a No. 3 seed this time around and having a relatively weak 10-6 record. But Baltimore won't have to match wits once again with Manning, and that's a break for the Ravens, who have consistently shown signs of having No. 18 lodged in their heads. Why deal with your No. 1 nemesis if you don't have to?

After all, Baltimore has played New England into overtime this season in Foxboro, and split its tight series with Pittsburgh. The Ravens beat the Jets in the season opener in New York, and should match up well against the playoff-novice Chiefs, who looked dreadful in getting dominated by the Raiders. It was only Indianapolis that posed something of a roadblock for Baltimore, and now it can't see the Colts unless both reach the AFC title game.

Sunday was a win-win day for Baltimore, even if Pittsburgh did rout Cleveland and lock up the AFC North title and a first-round bye. The Ravens almost certainly aren't going to get Manning-ed again this year in the playoffs, and that may be the best news they could have received in Week 17.

• In the case of the Saints, Chiefs and Ravens, all three teams will be entering the playoffs with something less than full-blown momentum. All three came into Sunday with postseason berths locked up and got to close out the regular season at home. But all three struggled, with the Saints losing to a plucky Tampa Bay team, the Chiefs getting drilled by the Raiders and the Ravens squeaking past the four-win Bengals.

Teams have won Super Bowl titles with or without taking momentum into the playoffs, so there's no hard-and-fast rule. But the Saints blunted some of the good vibes from their big win at Atlanta Monday night, and the Chiefs have to be a little concerned about Matt Cassel's horrible 11 of 33, 115-yard, two interception showing against Oakland. Both Cassel and top running back Jamaal Charles took a beating at the hands of the Raiders.

Baltimore won, but it might be the least impressive 12-4 team in recent NFL history. The Bengals rolled up 395 yards against the Ravens, and Baltimore struggled in the running game and in protecting quarterback Joe Flacco. Making matters worse, the Ravens suffered three significant injuries, with cornerback Josh Wilson (shoulder stinger), offensive left tackle Michael Oher (sprained knee) and safety Ed Reed (ribs) leaving the game.

The Saints might have injury issues coming out of their loss. New Orleans reported injuries to safety Malcolm Jenkins, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Chris Ivory. When you add in the Colts' tougher-than-expected 23-20 defeat of Tennessee in Indianapolis, half of the AFC's six-team playoff field played uninspired football for much of Sunday.

• The six teams in the NFC's playoff field should be very, very happy that Tampa Bay lost at home to Detroit two weeks ago and won't be going to the postseason. Because if there's a better, more dangerous non-playoff team in the NFL, I haven't seen it. Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman gives his club a chance to win almost every game, and the Bucs simply don't back down to anyone.

• I can understand both the pro- and anti-Tom Coughlin arguments in New York. But I can also appreciate that Giants ownership rarely panics or gives into the knee-jerk demands of either the fans or media to fire a head coach. I don't know if Coughlin's going to reverse New York's penchant for second-half folds in 2011, but he'll get that opportunity, according to owner John Mara.

New York couldn't close the deal in that game against Philly two weeks ago, and that's almost inexcusable. But head coaches in the NFL probably shouldn't get canned too often for going 10-6 and blowing one game that changes the outcome of an entire season.

• After all the Vikings' negative energy that was often a big part of the Brad Childress era, going with the well-respected and low-key Leslie Frazier feels like the right move in Minnesota. Childress was high-strung and at times could be dictatorial, and swinging the pendulum back to a more flexible leadership style could be beneficial for the Vikings.

• I also can't argue with the notion that Jason Garrett deserves a shot as the full-time head coach in Dallas. He did enough with his half-season opportunity that Jerry Jones can't take the chance of letting him walk and then seeing him win somewhere else as a head coach.

But Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman is a quality coach in his own right, and he deserves a legitimate job interview for the Dallas opening. Not just one that fulfills Jones's obligation under the NFL's Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule has made a difference since being instituted, but we can't afford to let it become just a maneuver or a charade of sorts.

• Despite not making the playoffs after being in first place in the AFC West after Week 10, the Raiders (8-8) have to feel good about themselves going 6-0 in the division (first team to do that since the 1970 merger and not make the postseason) and ending their seven-year streaks of both losing seasons and having 11 losses or more.

If the job of head coach Tom Cable really is in jeopardy, as has been reported, then Raiders owner Al Davis's recent run of exhibiting good sense and making solid decisions is over. Cable has Oakland headed in the right direction, and to start over now would be counterproductive.

If Cable is out, don't be surprised if reports indicate that loyalty issues had developed between him and first-year Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who some league insiders believe has been attempting to undermine Cable with Davis this season. That's more than a hunch on my part.

• If the Browns players had any say in the decision, Eric Mangini is beyond a goner in Cleveland. That's at least what the Browns' lackluster performance at home against the AFC North champion Steelers fairly well shouted. So much for putting up a good fight and making a statement of solidarity on behalf of your embattled head coach. Pittsburgh won 41-9, and it really wasn't that close.

Mangini is 10-22 in his two years in Cleveland, and despite the Browns playing hard for most of the season, averaging five wins is Dave Campo territory. Browns football czar Mike Holmgren did the fair thing last year and gave Mangini a whole season to make his case, but his time in Cleveland could be summed up with "close, but not quite.''

My sense is Holmgren will be making a mistake if he tries to return to the sideline in Cleveland next season, but taking a vigorous run at ESPN's Jon Gruden is a move that would help the Browns return to relevancy in 2011.

• You could say roughly the same thing about how hard the Dolphins played on Tony Sparano's behalf Sunday in Foxboro. Miami took its gaudy 6-1 road record to New England and got waxed by the machine-like Patriots, 38-7. The Dolphins' effort was almost non-existent to the naked eye, and even New England's backups manhandled Miami's starters.

I know there's some sentiment the Dolphins aren't that far away and owner Stephen Ross shouldn't blow things up and start over in Miami, but I'm not really sure why. When I look at Sparano's team, I see a third-place club that's a lot closer to last than first in the AFC East. The underachieving Dolphins richly deserved their 7-9 record.

• Sparano might not be the only dead man walking in Miami. Could quarterback Chad Henne's stock have sunk any lower than it has late this season? Henne was yanked twice against the Patriots, in favor of Tyler Thigpen, and finished with just six completions in 16 attempts ( 61 yards and an interception).

And apparently Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall has given up on Henne, because reports had him virtually ignoring the Dolphins starting quarterback on the sideline on Sunday, but chatting often with Thigpen.

Colts under the radar, dangerous team
Source: SI
SI.com's Andrew Perloff explains how the Colts look going into the playoffs against the Jets.
 
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