Big divisional wins put Ravens back atop AFC North

There are a couple ways to look at the Ravens' three setbacks this season.

The mindset which most of us have chosen is that the Ravens have frustratingly dropped three games to teams who, in all likelihood, will not make the playoffs. These teams currently have a combined record of 11-19, and it'd be tough to argue with the stance that each squad is inferior to the Ravens in terms of talent.

But consider those losses this way: While the Ravens have dropped a few games in disappointing fashion, they've consistently taken care of the big games, or the games they need to win.

Through 10 games, the Ravens are 5-2 against conference opponents, and more importantly, are now a perfect 3-0 against their fellow AFC North teams with two games against the 4-6 Browns left to play.

Unlike previous years, where the Ravens struggled against the Steelers and Bengals and got boxed out of solid playoff positioning because of crucial division defeats or lost tiebreakers, John Harbaugh's team currently sits atop the division because its taken care of the most significant games on their schedule thus far.

"It's big," quarterback Joe Flacco said of the division wins. "I've been saying it. We're 7-3, and if we were to pick three teams we were to lose to, we probably would have picked those three teams. You don't like to hear that, you don't like to look at it that way, but the bottom line is you've got to put those losses in the past and move on. We've played good football this year, and we've got to continue to do that."

Ray_Rice-flexing-tall.jpgWhich wins would you rather have? Over the Titans, Jaguars and Seahawks, or the Steelers (twice) and Bengals?

Obviously, the losses the Ravens suffered were frustrating, but this team wasn't going to go 16-0 this season. We can continue to dwell on the negative aspects from the first 10 games, or we can admit that the Ravens aren't perfect, but that they're still a playoff-caliber squad with the potential to make a deep run.

Yes, the Ravens have had three road losses to teams that are average at best. But they've also bounced back from each of those defeats and have stopped a potential slide by picking up a win the following week.

"There's always going to be challenges and obstacles that you have to overcome, and we understand that," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Sometimes you can do that in one week. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, and it's like, 'Why can't we get past this thing?' But then you work to improve in that area, and something else pops up.

"You know, the other teams are getting better too, and they're attacking you. That's the beauty. It's the ebb and flow of the National Football League. Really, in the end, you just have to find a way to win on Sunday. Most weeks we have, but some weeks we have not. Now, we have to go to the next one and try to figure out a way to win the next one."

One could say that a defining characteristic of quality teams is that they beat the teams they're supposed to beat. That person might take a look at the Ravens' remaining schedule and shudder at the fact that four of their remaining six games come against teams with losing records.

But the bottom line is that with about two-thirds of the season now gone, the Ravens hold first place in the AFC North. Despite all the ups and downs and the embarrassing road losses, if the Ravens can keep winning the big games on their schedule, they've got a shot to position themselves near the top of the conference playoff picture.

As much grief as we've given the Ravens for the setbacks, they deserve props for the big wins, as well.

"(We're) 7-3, No. 1 in the division - that's huge," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "And now we're the master of our destiny. We can't take any steps back anymore. November and December are crucial for us. So if we want a chance to make a run at this thing, we need to take care of business."

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