MyUMBC Goes Ravens Purple

With the Ravens in the playoffs again, it’s neat to see everything in town going purple, like City Hall:

UMBC is getting in on the fun, too. For example, when the Ravens are in the playoffs, the top of the AOK Library goes purple:

I know in this photo it looks blue, but trust me, it's purple.

And now, the MyUMBC web portal has joined the mania:

I hope there’s a reason to keep that color up for a few more weeks, a least!

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Terry Bradshaw Doesn’t Think Much Of The Ravens This Week

FoxSports asked Terry Bradshaw to “write” a column about this week’s playoff matchups. From what I can discern, it seems that Terry doesn’t like the Ravens’ chances against the Colts:

“Ravins at Coltz: Its the same darn thin fer them ther Ravins as wit them ther Jetz. Them Ravins peepel our luv to run that ther Football. Boy Howdy butt they du! Wir seein that ther guy Joe Flacko ther du a littel bit, butt hes mostlee handin off to that ther guy Ray Rice guy an that Willie MaGahee guy. To hav any kinda chans, them Ravins got to run fer at leest 180 yard, boy howdy! Now, if them ther Ravins can cuntrol that ther clock with that ther run, Baltimoor can limt limmit limit stop the numbr of oportoonities fer Paytin Manin. Butt them ther Ravins hav to scor, to. Them ther Ravins jus cant keep it fer eight nine minits an git three poynts. Butt I don see how them ther Ravins beet them ther Coltz, who our so splosive on awffense.

I been feelin bettur abawt Indee beetin them ther Ravins thin aneebode neckz weekn. Ifn I had to bet on anee of these ther games an I had 100 fer to sav my life ther, Im mor cumfertible betin on Paytin Manin agin them ther Ravins ther. No disspectin now to them, butt, boy howdy I do thin them ther Jetz will cum closir to beetin them ther Charjirs thin them ther Ravins will ginst Indee.

What doed I thin of Paytin winin his foorth NVP? Im not sur it ment as much to him as much it wuld hav ment to that ther Droo Breez as much, who has nevr gotin it, I don thin. I lik to spred this ward round, boy howdy. I meen, you culd giv to Paytin evry yeer, butt how culd you not giv it to that ther Breez guy? What duz he hav to do to git it? What duz Kris Jonsun down ther in Teneseee got to do to git it? I aways ask myselfs who steped up an had credible year. It wuld hav bin grat fer the MFL, becuz Droo is evry bit as gud a guy and a playr as Paytin is.

An I shud know sumthin bout them ther quarbacks, boy howdy!”

Well said, Terry. Well said.

(The FoxSports link to Terry’s column after his editors had polished it for publication.)

The Ravens Road-Field Advantage

Here’s the Ravens’ playoff history (road games in bold):

Jan. 10, 2010 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 33, New England 14
Jan. 18, 2009 AFC Championship Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14
Jan. 10, 2009 AFC Divisional Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10
Jan. 4, 2009 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 27, Miami 9
Jan. 13, 2007 AFC Divisional Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6
Jan. 3, 2004 AFC Wild Card Tennessee 20, Baltimore 17
Jan. 20, 2002 AFC Divisional Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 10
Jan. 13, 2002 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 20, Miami 3
Jan. 28, 2001 Super Bowl XXXV Baltimore 34, N.Y. Giants 7 (neutral site)
Jan. 14, 2001 AFC Championship Baltimore 16, Oakland 3
Jan. 7, 2001 AFC Divisional Baltimore 24, Tennessee 10
Dec. 31, 2000 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 21, Denver 3

When you look at the record, you see that the Ravens are only 1-2 in home playoff games, and haven’t won a home playoff game since Bill Clinton was president. Yet the Ravens are 6-2 (.750) all-time on the road in the playoffs. Taking it a little farther, the Ravens are undefeated in road playoff games that don’t involve going to Pittsburgh (IMPORTANT: the Steelers aren’t in the playoffs this year).

Playing at home is supposed to be a huge advantage in the NFL. Isn’t that what all of the talk is about in November and December, securing home-field advantage? For some teams, however, there’s another factor that may be even more important, and that’s playing with emotion (as was so clearly demonstrated yesterday). I think for the Ravens, playing with a chip on their shoulders in a hostile environment, knowing that in order to win they must out-physical their opponent and take the fans out of the game, is a key component to victory. Also, don’t discount the ability to more easily get focused on the road, where there are fewer distractions.

Remember Brian Billick’s fiery speech about going into the lion’s den? That speech doesn’t work if your team is the favorite. When you’re at home in the playoffs, you’re probably expected to win. It’s hard to “kick the door in and shout ‘Where is the Son-of-a-Bitch?” when it’s your door and you are the “Son-of-a Bitch.” Let’s admit it, some teams don’t need to play with emotion (Colts, Patriots). The Ravens do.

So, in the future, let’s not root for the Ravens to get home playoff games; we know the winning formula now. But here and now, I suddenly feel really good about our chances, because the road to Miami doesn’t go through Baltimore.

It’s Not Going To Be Easy, But Here’s How The Ravens Make The Playoffs

After watching the Bengals sweep Pittsburgh yesterday, it occurred to me that the Ravens losses have been to Cincinnati, and at New England and Minnesota. Maybe they’re not really that bad, they’re just not elite. And we’ve all seen teams that were not considered elite sneaking into the playoffs and then going deep into January (actually, that would include last season’s Ravens). Having given it due consideration, the Ravens still have a path to the postseason, but it’s a narrow path. Here’s the way I see it:

These things are a given: The Patriots will win the AFC East, the Bengals will win the AFC North  and the Colts will win the AFC South. Either the Broncos or the Chargers will win the AFC West.

What’s still fuzzy are the two Wild Cards. Here are the teams still in the picture: NY Jets, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Houston and the loser of the AFC West race. Of those seven, I’m going to dismiss the Jets and the Dolphins out of hand. [Rex Ryan & Tony Sparano quietly leave through the door in the back of the room.]

Jacksonville and Houston, both 5-3, are facing games against San Francisco, New England, Indianapolis and each other. Both are unexpectedly in contention, and I suspect that at least one of them will succumb under the weight of late-season pressure. However, I also expect the AFC South survivor to earn one of the two Wild Card berths.

The loser of the AFC West race, either Denver or San Diego, each now with three losses, will very probably finish with six or seven. The Ravens have beaten both of these teams, and so have the first tiebreaker, effectively eliminating a threat from the AFC West.

This leaves the real threat to the Ravens’ Wild Card chances, the detested Steelers. The two haven’t met yet, and if one team sweeps the other, that will likely be enough to get that team into the playoffs. This is obviously true of Pittsburgh, which only has three losses, but it is also true of the Ravens, and here’s why:

If the Ravens win the games they’ll be expected to (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland) that’s eight wins. That leaves two games against Pittsburgh, plus Indy and a visit to Green Bay. Baltimore needs to win at least two of these games, in addition to the others. Of these four, because of the power of the tiebreaker, the two games against the Steelers mean more than matchups with the Colts and the Packers. In other words, beating the Colts and Packers will not mean as much to the playoff math as will the Steelers’ games.

(Of course, if the Ravens lose to the Browns tonight, I will quickly and politely escort them to that door in the back of the room.)

It must be galling to Rex Ryan to have lost to Jacksonville in the way he did. Rex has spent every minute since he arrived in New York talking about a new culture epitomized by defensive toughness. The defensive “genius” imported Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to jump start that new culture, and now, a defense that looked so good early on is costing him games the Jets should have won. I guess getting away from football for a week didn’t solve all of the Jets’ problems, and now the rookie head coach will have to try and get inside the heads of the head cases he encouraged. I suspect Ryan will become less and less mouthy as the season wears him down. Lesson: Don’t make yourself a target until you’re sure you can deflect the arrows. Didn’t Rex learn anything from watching his Dad’s example?

Isn’t it amazing how excellent Ravens’ linebackers fade into obscurity once they leave the team? And we’re talking about players who were supposed to be game-changers with their new teams. Let’s see, there’s Jamie Sharper, Edgerton Hartwell, Adalius Thomas and now Bart Scott. Am I forgetting anyone?

Watching Tom Brady take apart the Colts last night gave me hope for this Sunday; of course, the Ravens aren’t the Patriots. I’m also pretty sure Peyton Manning is going to light up our secondary. The Colts’ defense is so much weaker without Bob Sanders, it’s amazing. It’s kind of the way the Steelers suffer without Troy Polamalu. I’m starting to consider strong safety the most second most important position in the NFL. By the way, I put that loss entirely on Bill Belichek, the new spokesman for Bad Idea Jeans.  His decision to go for the first down on his own 30 yard-line has to be one of the riskiest moves in recent memory, and it rightfully blew up in his face. Think about this – if Mark Clayton catches that pass, the Pats might be sitting at 5-4.

Trying to handicap the NFC makes my head hurt. The Giants and Falcons  are awesome, the Giants and Falcons suck. The Cowboys are a joke, the Cowboys are pretty good, the Cowboys suck. The Cardinals and the Panthers are pathetic, the Cardinals are going to run away with their division and the Panthers are beating some pretty good teams. The Packers are average, good, terrible, beating Dallas. Come to think of it, maybe the Ravens should play in the NFC…

This year’s playoffs are a symptom of all that’s wrong with baseball, and a warning to the NFL

First, let me say this: Don’t blame the Yankees. They didn’t create this monstrosity, they’re just taking advantage of it, the way any well-run organization would. Yes, their payroll is almost twice as much as any other team, and is larger than the Nationals, Pirates, Padres and Marlins combined, but they’re only doing what the system rewards them for doing: buying talent. If the Yankees close out the series tomorrow night as expected, it will not be a victory achieved between the baselines, it will be a triumph of the checkbook. And that’s what’s wrong with baseball.

In sports, what we cherish are the values that are reinforced through competition. We revel in the success of the team that overachieves and becomes greater than the mere sum of its parts. We cheer for the athletes who overcome obstacles and reach heights previously thought to be out of their reach.  We expect hard work, perseverance and discipline to be rewarded. We root for the underdog, all the while knowing that he will usually fail.

Major League Baseball, as it exists today, reflects not the value structure of athletic competition, but the value structure of the corporate boardroom. Organizations vie with each other to increase their cash flow through lucrative television deals, palatial stadiums and mass merchandising. Teams with large population bases from which to draw have an inherent advantage in these calculations.  As a result, there is no level playing field in major league baseball; an upcoming season’s results can be quite comfortably predicted by analyzing payroll statistics. (Of this year’s eight playoff teams, six had team salaries in excess of $100 million. The two teams that did not, St. Louis and Minnesota, were both swept from the postseason without having won a single game.)

In years past, we could debate which players would be the difference makers for a team; now that debate must include owners and front office personnel, because that’s where games are won and lost, often before a single pitch is thrown. Today, the game’s true heroes are those who know how to acquire talent well, while the goats are those that squander large sums of money on players who underperform (yes, I’m looking at you Mets and Cubs).  Major League Baseball, as it is now constructed, reflects the crass values of free-market capitalism, disguised as sport. It rewards those who can afford to spend enormous sums of money, and punishes those who cannot.  Even those teams that work hard to develop young talent are denied the fruits of their labor, as often they are unable to keep pace with the exorbitant salary demands of rising stars.

And now, to make matters worse, the Valhalla of modern sports leagues, the NFL, teeters on the edge of experimenting with the same disastrous system. Jerry Jones, the wealthy owner of the wealthy Cowboys, has made little attempt to hide his glee at the prospect of unrestrained spending. Dan Snyder of the Redskins could actually buy his way out of the perennial train-wreck that is his team.  In places like Minnesota, New Orleans and Pittsburgh, however, the outlook is far grimmer. For franchises like this, it will quickly become impossible to keep their star players, and they will soon become the Pirates, Royals and Nationals of the NFL. Always poor, always losing. To be fair, one or perhaps two of these teams won’t stay poor long. Remember, the second largest metropolitan area in the nation, Los Angeles, is just waiting for its chance to get back in the game. While the nicknames Vikings or Saints would have no local connection, oddly enough, with a slight change in spelling, the Los Angeles Stealers would actually be a nice fit.

So, if you want to look into the crystal ball and see what the future of competition in the NFL is like, just replace the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels with Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Jets. If you’re a fan of some other NFL team, this would be the time to change allegiances, before you’re forced to experience the heartbreak of seeing your guys reduced to the role of generic schedule-fillers for teams that matter.

Of course, for those lucky fans of big-market teams, there’s always next year. But for fans from places like Kansas City, Pittsburgh or San Diego, next year promises just more of the same. Their seasons were over before they began. Thanks, Major League Baseball. And welcome aboard, NFL.