Every blog is making a case today for one team from the division to make the Super Bowl. The choice in the AFC North is the Baltimore Ravens. Here's why:
Ben Roethlisberger's injuries make the Ravens the clear-cut favorite to win the division. The Steelers are the hottest team in the AFC North, but it doesn't feel like that anymore with Roethlisberger sidelined indefinitely with rib and shoulder injuries. The Ravens, which already lead the division by one game, will guarantee themselves of at least one home playoff game by winning the division and could gain a first-round bye if they secure one of the top two seeds. Both of those goals became more attainable when their chief rival in the division lost its best player.
There are no more questions about whether Joe Flacco can lead a team to the Super Bowl. Flacco, in his fifth season, is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the playoffs. He is the first quarterback in the NFL since the 1970 merger to lead a team to the playoffs in his first four years in the league and has the second-most playoff wins over the first four years of a career (Tom Brady ranks first).
The biggest knock had been Flacco's inability to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Then, last January in New England, Flacco's throw to the end zone with 22 seconds left should have gotten the Ravens over the AFC Championship Game hurdle. Even though Lee Evans failed to hold onto the ball, Flacco still proved he can lead Baltimore to the big game.
There's no arguing that this is the Ravens' worst defense in more than a decade. Quarterbacks are throwing for more than 300 yards against the Ravens. Running backs are gaining 100 yards against them. Their team leader (Ray Lewis) and best cornerback (Lardarius Webb) are sidelined with injuries. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are banged up as well.
But this defense is championship-caliber in one area. The Ravens are the best in the NFL in one very important category: inside the red zone. Baltimore has allowed only 13 touchdowns in 36 possessions inside its 20-yard line. That's a league-leading rate of 36.1 percent, which is better than the Bears (38.1 percent) and Texans (40 percent).