Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM
If you're ranking the most important NFL wins of this 2011 regular season than somewhere in your 'Top 3' you've gotta have San Francisco's dynamic win in Detroit back in Week 6 along with Buffalo's scintillating Week 3 win over New England … but we won't complain one bit should you decide to place Baltimore's 23-20 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday Night right atop the list.
Folks, not only did the Ravens show major moxie by driving 92 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the game's final two-plus minutes but the clean sweep of the season's series against their AFC North archrivals – remember that 35-7 win back in Week 1 – sends a distinct message to the team that has represented the AFC in two of the last three (and three of the last six) Super Bowls.
No wonder Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was absolutely giddy after QB Joe Flacco hooked up with speedy rookie WR Torrey Smith on that 26-yard touchdown fling with just eight seconds remaining in the Sunday Night Football game – consider that Smith failed to catch a potential game-winning lob just moments earlier and that fellow WR Anquan Boldin (7 catches for 88 yards) dropped a Flacco seed inside the 10-yard line.
It sure was setting up to be another Baltimore disaster against the team that's knocked 'em out of the playoffs three times since 2001 including last year when the Ravens lost 31-24 at Pittsburgh when they failed to defend a long pass thrown by QB Ben Roethlisberger but instead the Ravens got the 'last laugh' and the big question now is what's Baltimore gonna do with this newfound opportunity?
Okay, so the win merely tied 'em with Cincinnati (also 6-2) atop the AFC North and these clubs have two games on tap including a Nov. 20th showdown in crab cake country and then a Week 17 season finale in Cincinnati – but maybe Harbaugh's guys can finally realistically dream about getting at least one home game in this year's post-season.
In the Harbaugh Era that began back in 2008, the Ravens have appeared in seven playoff games – all of them played on the road – but now this team is showing signs that they are different. A come-from-way-behind rally to beat Arizona 30-27 last week was special and now this. Flacco – who threw for 300 yards against the Steelers and was magical in third-down situations (see 14-of-21 for the game) – showed no panic, no distress even when he had the likes of Pittsburgh LB James Harrison literally flying at him off a corner blitz.
Go ahead and mark this road win down as one of the most important in the league this year – and one of the most important in the Ravens' still-brief history.
Meanwhile, the fact of the matter is the Ravens must share the 'Monday Headlines' with the aforementioned Bengals who have become – dare we say – the best story in the whole NFL. Hey, no slight to either the aforementioned 49ers or Lions but the Bengals were supposed to win only 3 or 4 games this year and here's Marvin Lewis' club at the midway point with a very good shot at landing double-digit wins.
In Sunday's 24-17 comeback win at 2 ½-point fav Tennessee, the Bengals rallied behind cool-as-a-cucumber QB Andy Dalton who fired three scoring strikes en route to a 217-yard, no-INT outing and so Cincy's on a five-game SU (straight-up) winning streak for the first time since the 1988 season (yes, a Super Bowl season for the Bengals) and it's safe to say that rookie wide receiver A.J. Green (7 receptions for 83 yards) quickly is becoming one of the NFL's great impact players as evidenced by some clutch chain-moving catches against the Titans.
Think Cincinnati's a flash in the pan? Well, you could have fooled us as the Bengals now are 7-1 ATS (against the spread) with the lone loss coming in a13-8 setback against San Francisco in Week 3 play and whoever would have thought that maybe that Sept. 25th tilt was a Super Bowl Preview … come again!
Maybe the best stat coming from Sunday's win in Nashville was this: The Bengals' offense had the ball for 70 plays and didn't commit a single turnover. Now, if Cincinnati can be that careful with the ball in the two upcoming tilts against Baltimore and in this Sunday's home game against Pittsburgh than everyone might have to take the Bengals seriously.
If you have not to this point in time, than shame on you!
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PREVIEW
CHICAGO (4-3) at PHILADELPHIA (3-4) – 8:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
Obviously, the Bears and Eagles are not divisional rivals but this will mark the fifth consecutive NFL season they played one another and note that Chicago's won/covered three of the four head-to-head showdowns including last year's 31-26 home win as 3-point dogs.
If the Bears are gonna 'cash' here than containing Philly QB Michael Vick and RB LeSean 'Shady' McCoy is critical as last week Vick threw for 279 yards and two TDs in that 34-7 Sunday Night Football beat-down against Dallas. McCoy, meanwhile, rushed for a career-best 186 yards and two TDs on some 30 carries against the 'Boys – will Philly head coach Andy Reid put McCoy under a similar workload here? Stay tuned.
Chicago comes off its bye week following a hang-on 24-18 win against Tampa Bay in London two weeks ago and so the extra down time allowed RB Matt Forte – still unhappy about his current contract status -- to rest some bumps and bruises but note Forte enters this tilt having rushed for 672 yards (a haughty 5.4 yards-per-carry average) and don't forget that he easily leads the Bears with his 39 receptions.
Spread Notes – Philadelphia is just 3-4 versus the vig overall this season and note the Eagles have failed to cover seven of their last 10 games when placed in the chalk role. On the flip side, Chicago is also 3-4 against the Las Vegas prices this year but the Bears are a tidy 7-4-1 ATS away since late in the 2009 campaign.
And now hear this … Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time tonight as we finish off the NFL Week 9 schedule with the Bears at the Eagles on MNF plus there's always College Football all this week long beginning with Tuesday's twin-bill from the Mid-American Conference (that's Western Michigan at Toledo on espn2 and Northern Illinois at Bowling Green on ESPNU).
Go ahead and make sure you're all aboard as we will take you right through Super Bowl XLVI on February 5th. Just remember to call our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here at www.jimhurley.com for the NFL and NCAA Football action and don't forget that NCAA Basketball starts tonight with the 2K Classic as there are three games on the docket including William & Mary at St. John's, Eastern Kentucky at Miss State and Valpo at Arizona.
The calling/check-in times are after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays & Sundays; Anytime after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday afternoon action; And anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-thru-Friday weeknight action. Go ahead and get Monday Night Football's Side/Totals winner right now along with tonight's College Hoops action!
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS/NOTES
The LSU Tigers are #1 – and by a wide margin (.9931 to Oklahoma State's .9447) – and, if nothing else, last Saturday's 9-6 overtime win at 5-point favorite Alabama showed that Les Miles' club has the heart of a champion even if the Tigers have two quarterbacks who truly can't throw the ball worth a damn! The fact of the matter is LSU has only one real regular-season test remaining (see the day-after-Thanksgiving game against visiting Arkansas) and than by all accounts LSU should be a double-digit betting favorite against either Georgia or South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game next month.
Okay, but who else was a 'real winner' this past College Football weekend?
How about the Cincinnati Bearcats who may be placed at only #23 in this week's BCS Standings but finished out the first weekend in November as the Big East's only unbeaten team after the 26-23 non-cover victory at Pittsburgh. If Cincinnati can run the table – the 'Cats host West Virginia this weekend, than there's road games at Rutgers and Syracuse and a season-ending home game against Connecticut – than Butch Jones' club will get one of those big paydays in a BCS bowl game.
And what about #11 Houston? The Cougars' stock just keeps on rising after that 56-13 demolition of host UAB and with QB Case Keenum a hot Heisman Trophy commodity these days these some chatter about getting in a potential unbeaten Houston team (now 9-0 SU) into a big-time January bowl game.
NOTE: Get our College Football Mid-Week Report in the next edition of Jim Sez.