MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

And so this is playoffs

And what have you done?

I can just hear John and Yoko now. Do the Baltimore Ravens? What have they done?

Well, they won 10 games somehow and they were in first place of the AFC North for most of the season until stumbling into the playoffs as the No. 6 AFC seed with a 10-7 record. They return to Cincinnati on Sunday to play the North champion Bengals, one week after falling to them, 27-16, with three turnovers by third-string quarterback (actually, second string for the past 38 days) Anthony Brown directly leading to three Bengals touchdowns.

As of Wednesday afternoon, injured starter Lamar Jackson was still not practicing and injured back-up Tyler Huntley was still not throwing.

Anybody have Tom Matte’s number?

In fairness to the Ravens, despite giving away three touchdowns, they played a feisty, hard-nosed game against Cincinnati, particularly the defense. These teams always go after each other and last Sunday was no exception.

But while the defense will keep the Ravens in games if the offense allows it to, the offense can’t stay out of its own way. Well, that’s not entirely accurate – the offense doesn’t do anything, not even to get into its own way. There is no offense other than running backs and tight ends. When, of course, they’re healthy.

Realistically, it would take the return of at least a somewhat healthy Jackson for the Ravens to have any chance of winning this game, because the Bengals have appeared for much of the season to be too strong for most AFC teams in nearly every area on the field. There are, after all, a lot of pretty good reasons for their being the defending AFC champs.

As of Wednesday, the reports were Jackson’s injured knee still didn’t feel right, so if he would be able to return at some level of efficiency, would he be putting himself at risk to be injured even more severely, particularly in the final year of his rookie contract?

Ah, yes, Lamar’s final year of the rookie contract. When did that elephant suddenly appear in the room? It’s been five minutes since anybody mentioned it.

We can talk for days about the Lamar contract situation, and when the time is right, we will. It’s unlikely either party, Lamar or the Ravens, knows what’s going to happen other than the Ravens knowing they are not going to guarantee an entire long-term contract the way those nitwits in Cleveland did last summer with the Deshaun Watson contract.

Talk about bad timing for the Ravens, right? True, but don’t look for any other team in the NFL to do that – just the Cleveland Browns, because the Cleveland Browns are a special kind of stupid. Didn’t you watch “Draft Day”?

The Ravens did make some exciting contract news this week, though, extending the contract of inside linebacker Roquan Smith five years for $100 million with $60 million guaranteed. And given the draft picks given up for Smith in the trade with the Chicago Bears, there was strong suspicion his contract would be extended, because the Ravens don’t like to trade draft picks for anybody.

With Smith, 25, locked in as a defensive centerpiece, general manager Eric DeCosta will be in better position to use the franchise tag to keep Jackson in Baltimore if Jackson does not agree to an extension, which he won’t do any time before the March 7 deadline.

As for Sunday, the Ravens have a history of winning playoff games they shouldn’t (6-0 all-time as the road wild card team), as well as losing playoff games they shouldn’t. Certainly, they’re not supposed to win this one, but I can see them giving the Bengals a real tough game as they did last week sans the free touchdowns.

Baltimore has very pretty defensive numbers in the league rankings, but they didn’t play a very good schedule in the second half, which, if you remember, was supposed to work in its favor. The Ravens, though, have never taken Easy Street. Rather, they have a history of squandering favorable opportunities, even though, in fairness, they have once more been hurt by sweeping injuries like no other team has, and one year they might actually find a solution for that.

At the beginning of the season, the Ravens were picked to win 10 or 11 games, compete for the division title and go to the playoffs where they would have to figure out a way to get past one or all three of the elite AFC teams, Kansas City, Buffalo and defending conference champion Cincinnati.

With 10 wins, that’s pretty much what they’ve done, even without their MVP quarterback for the past five, possibly six weeks, and the first leg of the elite trifecta is on for Sunday night in Cincinnati.

The Ravens have gone 2-5 this season against playoff teams, including a win over Tampa Bay, which enters the tournament with a losing record.

The Ravens have some playoff history, yes, but this time around they have no offense, no legitimate scheme that anybody has seen, no receivers and no quarterback.

And … if they should happen to win Sunday night, Buffalo and Kansas City will still be out there.

Another year over

A new one just begun

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT