Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett is the frontrunner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and he is the most valuable player on the team.

Here is something else to consider: Forsett for the Pro Bowl.

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Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsEclipsing 95 yards or more rushing in four games this season, Ravens RB Justin Forsett has at least earned his way into Pro Bowl consideration.
As strange as this might have sounded at the start of the season, the long-time journeyman deserves to be mentioned with the likes of DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. Only six total running backs (there is no AFC/NFC distinction anymore), and it would be a mistake not to include Forsett.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Forsett leads all NFL running backs in yards per carry with 5.8. To put this in perspective, the league average per rush this season is 4.1.
  • He is the league's third-leading rusher with 903 yards. Only Murray and Le'Veon Bell have gained more, but each has at least 40 more carries than Forsett this season.
  • Forsett is one of the NFL's top playmakers with a league-high 12 runs over 20 yards. No one else has more than 10.
  • To emphasize the point of being valuable, Forsett has averaged 125 yards rushing in the Ravens' last four wins. In beating Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Tennessee and New Orleans, Forsett has produced 111, 95, 112 and 182 yards rushing.

The Pro Bowl has long become a popularity contest (one-third of the voting comes from fans), and Forsett is hurt by the fact he isn't a household name and doesn't have a national commercial. If you're selecting on importance as well as numbers, he should be a slam dunk to hear his name called when Pro Bowl players are announced on Dec. 23.

Simply put, the Ravens wouldn't be a serious playoff contender without Forsett. Ray Rice is gone. Bernard Pierce is too injury prone to be trusted. And rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro doesn't have the confidence of the coaching staff after fumbling in Pittsburgh. It's difficult to believe the Ravens would be a half game out of first place in the AFC North without Forsett breaking long runs and scoring critical touchdowns in the red zone.

The argument against Forsett is he's a product of the system. You'll hear that even Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns and Steve Slaton all gained over 1,000 yards rushing in Gary Kubiak's offense. That's valid, but you can't discount Forsett's vision, power and explosiveness. Pierce is averaging 3.6 yards per carry in the same offense and behind the same offensive line.

Forsett is starting to gain recognition after being named AFC Offensive Player of the Week in his past two games. The football world got a glimpse of what he's been doing all season when he produced a career-high 182 yards rushing on "Monday Night Football."

Whether that gains enough national respect for a Pro Bowl invitation remains to be seen. But Forsett has done everything he can to earn one.
The Baltimore Ravens have two players among the top vote-getters in the Pro Bowl balloting -- one of their newest and oldest players on the team.

Koch
Koch
Mosley
Sam Koch leads all punters with 66,753 votes, and rookie C.J. Mosley is second among inside linebackers with 126,670 votes.

Koch, the second-longest tenured Raven behind Terrell Suggs, is looking to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his nine-year career. He ranks third in the NFL in net average (43.1), and he's placed 72.7 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line -- which easily leads the NFL. Koch was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010.

"In my opinion, Sam has been a top punter in this league for a long time," special teams coach Jerry Rosberg said. "He has skills that belie his numbers sometimes, and we recognize that in our building. We love him. He’s our guy."

Mosley, the team's first-round pick, trails only Carolina's Luke Kuechly in the voting. He's the sixth-leading tackler in the NFL with 96, and he's the only defender with at least 80 tackles, an interception, a sack, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

Fans can vote on the NFL's website until Dec. 15. The Pro Bowl players will be announced Dec. 23.
Justin Forsett has gone from seven-year journeyman running back to one of the top players this month.

Forsett was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season after gaining a career-high 182 yards rushing and scoring two touchdowns in the Baltimore Ravens' 34-27 win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. He rushed for more yards than anyone else in the NFL in Week 12 and was one of five running backs to score multiple touchdowns.

This is the latest honor in what has become an unlikely career year for Forsett. He has earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second consecutive game (he gained 112 yards and two touchdowns in Week 10 against Tennessee) that he has played after going 96 career games without winning such an award.

Forsett is the first Ravens player to win this award multiple times in one season since Ray Rice in 2011. It wouldn't be surprising to see if Forsett was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in November next week.

Other Ravens recognized this season are: Justin Tucker (Week 3 against Cleveland), quarterback Joe Flacco (Week 6 against Tampa Bay) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (NFL defensive rookie of the month in October).

Haloti Ngata anchoring Ravens’ stout run defense

November, 26, 2014
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ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discusses the teams rush defense.
A look at where the Baltimore Ravens (7-4) and San Diego Chargers (7-4) rank in key statistical categories through 12 weeks of the NFL season:

Baltimore Ravens offense
Total yards: 372.5 (8th)
Rushing: 132.4 (6th)
Passing: 240.1 (16th)
Scoring: 26.8 (6th)
Third down: 42.6 percent (14th)
Red zone: 53.7 percent (16th)
Time of possession: 30:08 (17th)
Turnovers: 15 (tied-13th)

Baltimore Ravens defense
Total yards: 352.9 (15th)
Rushing: 88.3 (5th)
Passing: 264.6 (29th)
Scoring: 18.9 (5th)
Third down: 41.8 percent (tied-19th)
Red zone: 45.9 percent (3rd)
Turnovers forced: 16 (tied-17th)

Baltimore Ravens individual rankings
Passing yards per game: Joe Flacco, 251.0 (18th)
Rushing yards per game: Justin Forsett, 82.1 (5th)
Receiving yards per game: Steve Smith, 74.2 (16th)
Tackles: C.J. Mosley, 99 (6th)
Sacks: Elvis Dumervil, 12.5 (tied-2nd)
Passes defensed: Jimmy Smith, 8 (tied-34th)
Field-goal pct.: Justin Tucker, 87.6 percent (15th)

San Diego Chargers offense
Total yards: 337.6 (20th)
Rushing: 89.5 (27th)
Passing: 248.2 (13th)
Scoring: 22.3 (15th)
Third down: 45.0 percent (5th)
Red zone: 54.8 percent (tied-12th)
Time of possession: 31:34 (8th)
Turnovers: 12 (7th)

San Diego Chargers defense
Total yards: 330.1 (9th)
Rushing: 108.8 (15th)
Passing: 221.3 (6th)
Scoring: 19.6 (6th)
Third down: 45.1 percent (28th)
Red zone: 64.5 percent (26th)
Turnovers forced: 13 (26th)

San Diego Chargers individual rankings
Passing yards per game: Philip Rivers, 258.0 (15th)
Rushing yards per game: Ryan Mathews, 61.5 (17th)
Receiving yards per game: Keenan Allen, 58.3 (37th)
Tackles: Eric Weddle, 77 (27th)
Sacks: Corey Liuget, 3.5 (tied-68th)
Interceptions: Brandon Flowers, 3 (tied-9th)
Field-goal pct.: Nick Novak, 94.7 percent (4th)
Every team in the AFC North is at least three games over .500, and every team has playoff hopes.

The situation will sort itself out the next five games, but studying the schedules of the Browns, Bengals, Ravens and Steelers shows that Baltimore has a clear advantage, and the toughest roads belong to the Bengals and Browns.

Not all agree it's that tough for the Bengals, though. The website numberfire.com lists the Ravens with the best chance of making the playoffs, though the Bengals are not far behind. Numberfire lists the Ravens with a 59-percent chance, the Bengals at 56 percent, the Steelers at 50 percent and the Browns at just 23 percent.

None of the four has an easy finish, though at this point of the season nothing is easy.

Here’s a look:

The Baltimore Ravens play San Diego, at Miami, Jacksonville, at Houston and finish at home against Cleveland. Those teams are a combined 26-29 (.472). ... Three games are at home, three against winning teams. ... Baltimore is the only North team whose remaining opponents are below .500. ... After winning on the road impressively in New Orleans, the Ravens have to feel they control their fate if they keep winning. ... The flip side: The opponent won-lost is skewed by one-win Jacksonville. But Baltimore plays just two teams that have won at least seven games, fewest of the North teams, and it has three of their last five at home.

The Cincinnati Bengals play at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, at Denver and end against Pittsburgh. ... Yes, it’s as tough as it sounds. ... The combined record of those teams: 31-24 (.564). ... Three of five are at home, four of five against winning teams. ... How about that final four for a gantlet? Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Denver and Pittsburgh again. ... Splitting those four game might mean the Bengals miss the playoffs. ... Three are within the division, and Denver is among the AFC’s best. ... This finish is the most difficult in the division.

The Cleveland Browns play at Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, at Carolina and at Baltimore. ... That combined record is 30-24-1. ... The Browns also play four winning teams, with three of the final five on the road. ... That the Browns are even in the discussion is good news for Cleveland, but now the Browns would like to finish the task they’ve started. ...It’s not easy, especially since the Colts are one of the non-division games. That’s an exceptionally tough late draw. ... The Browns would love to be alive for the season finale in Baltimore, but to do so they have to take care of business in three of the next four games. Buffalo is close to a must win.

The Pittsburgh Steelers play New Orleans, at Cincinnati, at Atlanta and finish at home against Kansas City and Cincinnati. ... The combined record: 29-24-2. ... Three are at home, three against winning teams. ... Finishing at home the final two weeks helps, but Pittsburgh’s hopes might come down to how they fare against Cincinnati. ... Do the Bengals split, or does one team escape with two wins? If the Steelers can sweep, that might propel them. ... The negative about the final two home games: They figure to be against two teams fighting for their playoff lives as well.
The Baltimore Ravens became the first team to beat the New Orleans Saints in a prime-time game at the Superdome in five years, and the voters in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings were impressed.

The Ravens (7-4) moved up three spots to No. 11, which is the team's best showing on the Power Rankings since they were No. 9 in Week 8. Before making this jump, the Ravens alternated between No. 13 and No. 14 for the past four weeks.

The Ravens find themselves in the middle of the pack of the 7-4 teams. There are three other 7-4 teams who are ranked ahead of the Ravens: the Seattle Seahawks (No. 7), Indianapolis Colts (No. 8) and San Francisco 49ers (No. 9). There are five ranked below them: the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 12), Detroit Lions (No. 13), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 14), San Diego Chargers (No. 15) and Cleveland Browns (No. 16).

In terms of the AFC North, the first-place Bengals (7-3-1) moved up three spots to No. 10, the Steelers dropped two places to No. 14 during their bye and the Browns inched up one place to No. 16.

The Ravens play host to the No. 15 Chargers on Sunday.

QB Snapshot: Joe Flacco

November, 25, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Joe Flacco and how he played in the Baltimore Ravens' 34-27 win in Week 12:

Flacco
 The biggest improvement in Flacco was how he handled the blitz. In struggling the past three games against increased pressure, he said the Ravens had to make teams pay to make them stop blitzing. Flacco should expect to see a good amount of pressure Sunday against the aggressive San Diego Chargers. Quarterbacks have a 72.0 passer rating against the Chargers' blitz, which is fifth worst in the NFL.

Flacco certainly did that on "Monday Night Football," where he completed 13 of 17 attempts against the New Orleans Saints' blitz. His 222 yards passing against added pressure Monday night were the most of his seven-year NFL career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Flacco set the tone early, hitting wide receiver Steve Smith for the first touchdown of the game despite staring down an unblocked Saints pass-rusher.

In the games leading up to last week's bye, Flacco was unsettled in the pocket and didn't follow through on his throws when the pass rush collapsed around him. On Monday, he was poised for most of the game and took some big hits before releasing the ball downfield.

video

The 2014 rookie receiver class might be the best ever; 23 pass-catchers could have 1,000-yard seasons.

Ravens' report card at the Saints

November, 25, 2014
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Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 34-27 win at the New Orleans Saints:

Quarterback: Joe Flacco showed poise against the blitz and proved quite efficient in extending drives. Six of his seven completions on third downs led to first downs. Flacco stretched the field (his 40-yard strike to Steve Smith was perfect) and hit Torrey Smith in stride on underneath routes. Yes, he should've been picked off linebacker David Hawthorne, and it could've been returned for a touchdown. But that was a small smudge on an otherwise strong outing. Grade: B-plus.

Running backs: Justin Forsett broke a 38-yard run on the Ravens' first play of the game and finished of the Saints with a 20-yard touchdown run with 2:53 left in the game. His 182 yards rushing were 52 more than he had ever gained in his previous 97 career games. He ran hard in between the tackles and showed decisiveness in hitting the openings, which led to runs of 20, 24, 35 and 38 yards. Even backup Bernard Pierce had a 26-yard run, his longest one in 19 games. The only negative was fullback Kyle Juszczyk's fumble at the Saints' 1-yard line. Grade: A-minus.

Wide receivers/tight ends: For one of the few times this season, the Ravens were able to get the ball to Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in the same game. They combined for 187 yards receiving. Steve Smith made a fantastic touchdown grab while falling back and getting interfered with to cap the Ravens' opening drive. Torrey Smith was physical in going over the middle to make the intermediate catches. Marlon Brown converted a third down-and-12 with a 14-yard catch. Grade: A.

Offensive line: The right side was dominant with guard Marshal Yanda getting to the second level and tackle Rick Wagner sealing off the backside. Forsett gained 104 yards on the right side and averaged 10.4 yards per carry behind Yanda and Wagner. Left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Jeremy Zuttah also had solid games. Left tackle Eugene Monroe hasn't been the same since he returned from injury, and he was the team's worst lineman Monday. He allowed too much pressure on Flacco's blind side. Grade: B-plus.

Defensive line: The Ravens forced the Saints to stop running the ball, especially in between the tackles. Haloti Ngata set the tone when he stuffed running back Mark Ingram on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to end the opening drive. Nose tackle Brandon Williams made four tackles and forced a fumble. Chris Canty somehow convinced the officials that Saints left tackle Terron Armstead moved when he didn't, and that pushed back the Saints to the 6-yard line. Grade: B-plus.

Linebackers: All four sacks came from the Ravens' linebackers. Elvis Dumervil had his sixth multi-sack game of the season, and Terrell Suggs cracked 100 sacks for his career. C.J. Mosley led the Ravens with nine tackles and made his first career sack. Pernell McPhee topped the Ravens with three quarterback hits. Courtney Upshaw made a couple of outstanding open-field tackles. Grade: A.

Secondary: Will Hill made the play of the game with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. He negated tight end Jimmy Graham with his physical play. The rest of the secondary was extremely shaky. The Ravens gave up five passes over 20 yards, and there were players in position to make plays. Cornerback Danny Gorrer had an interception ripped out of his hands along the sideline, and rookie safety Terrence Brooks gave up a long touchdown because he didn't attack the ball. Lardarius Webb saved a touchdown with an illegal horse-collar tackle, which is important to point out because the Ravens kept the Saints out of the end zone. Grade: C-minus.

Special teams: Sam Koch changed field position with a career-high 59.5-yard net average. Justin Tucker hit a clutch 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Jacoby Jones made a couple of bad decisions when fielding kicks. Kamar Aiken caught the onside kick to end the game. Grade: B-plus.
The Baltimore Ravens' 34-27 win at the New Orleans Saints made NFL history for the AFC North.

This marks the first time that every team in a division is at least three games above .500, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The first-place Cincinnati Bengals are 7-3-1, and the rest of the division (Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns) is a half-game back at 7-4.

Of course, there were many years when the NFL was separated into divisions with five teams. The current setup of four teams in each division didn't start until 2002.

Still, it is impressive that every team has seven wins, even if it's the result of beating up on two bad divisions (AFC South and NFC South). In every other division, the last-place team is at least three games below .500. That's why the Ravens felt so much pressure to win at the Superdome.

"You're going to have to win a lot of games to win the division," coach John Harbaugh said. "You're going to have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference. I's just a fact. You're going to need every win you can get."

The last time AFC North teams received both wild-card spots was 2011. That's when the Ravens won the division and the Steelers and Bengals earned wild-card berths.
The Baltimore Ravens proved they can handle a high-pressure situation when they beat the New Orleans Saints, 34-27, on Monday night.

The Ravens won on the road after the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns had done so the day before, and they handed the Saints their first prime-time loss in the Superdome since 2009.

The reward? The Ravens are in control of their playoff destiny.

Even though the Ravens (7-4) are currently No. 7 in the AFC's six-team playoff field, they can improve their conference record as well as their head-to-head tiebreakers by taking care of their remaining games.

The weakest part of the Ravens resume' is their record in the AFC. After running their record to 4-0 against the NFC South on Monday night, the Ravens are 3-4 against conference opponents.

This is why the Ravens' next two games -- home against the San Diego Chargers (7-4) and at the Miami Dolphins (6-5) -- are so important. The Ravens can boost their conference record as well as win head-to-head matchups against two teams vying for wild-card spots.

In fact, the Ravens would move into one of the top six spots in the AFC by beating the Chargers on Sunday. It doesn't matter how the rest of the teams fare.

The Ravens are still in the running for the AFC North title as well. They are a half-game back of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1).

Here is the Ravens' remaining schedule: home against the Chargers, at the Dolphins, home against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10), at the Houston Texans (5-6) and home against the Cleveland Browns (7-4).
Happy early Thanksgiving!

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as episode No. 33 gives a Turkey Day preview, revisits Odell Beckham Jr.'s insane three-fingered catch, and discusses several teams' futures given the varying quarterback situations they have inherited this season.

Host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and co-host Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter), John Keim (Washington Redskins reporter) and Phil Sheridan (Philadelphia Eagles reporter).

Plus, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will debate in this week's "Main Event" about Sunday's big game at Lambeau Field that will feature MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

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NEW ORLEANS -- Baltimore Ravens safety Will Hill didn't go a day this past week without hearing the question:

Do you believe you can cover New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham?

Every coach from John Harbaugh on down wanted to hear Hill's response. Even offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak came up to him and asked if he was ready.

"I looked at Coach, like 'Was he serious?'" Hill said. "I'm always going to bet on myself."

Hill's boldness showed when he made the biggest play in the Baltimore Ravens' 34-27 victory over the Saints on "Monday Night Football," stepping in front of Graham and returning an interception 44 yards for a touchdown.

He gave the Ravens a pivotal momentum swing in the third quarter. He also injected something they desperately needed -- a jolt of confidence.

The next five games will tell if this is a turning point for a secondary that is lost its best player (cornerback Jimmy Smith) for the season. This makeshift defensive backfield is still going to give up plenty of passing yards and a frustrating amount of big plays. The Ravens just have to find it within themselves to push back. What's going to keep the Ravens (7-4) in the ultra-competitive AFC North and a crowded playoff field is showing much-needed fight in the defensive backfield.

The Ravens have watched their secondary flop this season in allowing a 77-yard winning touchdown to Cincinnati's A.J. Green in the season opener and six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9. It looked like the Ravens were headed for a similar fate when Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 260 yards in the first half.

The disturbing part was the Ravens were in position to make plays. Cornerback Danny Gorrer had what should have been an interception ripped away along the sideline, and rookie safety Terrence Brooks allowed a deep pass to the end zone because he didn't attack the ball.

Then, something changed after defensive coordinator Dean Pees gave a fiery halftime speech and Hill delivered his take.

"I saw the way our offense was playing and was playing with fire," Hill said. "I told our defense that we have to match our offense. They're more physical than us right now. It just fell in place."

More accurately, the ball fell into Hill's hands, which came courtesy of some deception on the Saints' first drive of the second half. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who usually lines up on the edge, lined up as a middle linebacker and blitzed to get his hands on Brees as the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback threw the ball.

Anticipating that Brees would throw the ball to his go-to target Graham, Hill jumped in front of the Saints tight end and raced to the end zone untouched.

"Will Hill's play was the difference in the game for a lot of reasons," Harbaugh said. "There's seven points, so that's the most obvious reason. There's also the fact that we could make a play on defense, we could come up with a play. Not just a stop -- we made plenty of stops -- but an interception. Go grab it and take it the other way. That's something that's been lacking, that we needed. It came at the right time."

These types of game-changing plays have been rare for a Ravens team that has historically been defined by defense. Hill's play marked only the third interception by a Ravens defensive back this season and was the team's first defensive touchdown in 23 games.

The Ravens put faith in Hill when they signed him this offseason despite a six-game suspension, and it's beginning to pay off. At a time when the Ravens were struggling to stop the pass, they made a big play instead of giving up one.

The Ravens are building a physical identity with a bullying ground game and a run defense that doesn't budge. Their glaring weakness is a secondary that starts a converted safety (Anthony Levine) at cornerback and rotates safeties on almost every series.

If this secondary can stay competitive, the Ravens will stay in the thick of the playoff race.

"We're NFL defensive backs, and for people to talk about us like we're kids, that's belittling," Hill said. "It's time for us to step up and show what we're capable of."

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