Thursday 17 August 2017 / 11:45 AM

Michael's Scoop: Searching for a dark horse

With three weeks left to play we’re beginning to find some clarity in the fog that is this year’s race to the playoffs – at least in the NFC that is, where the only team that could be considered a dark horse at all would be the 49ers.

But after San Francisco fell to the Raiders, it would be far more appropriate to call them a dead horse, and not a dark one.

In the NFC every one of the top seven seeds is (9-4) or better, save for whatever “Pee-Wee Football” club crawls out of the NFC South, and so one very good team won’t make it to the big dance. Just as the (10-6) Cardinals missed the cut in 2013.

Who will it be?

My guess is the Lions.

Until proven otherwise it’s always best to presume that Detroit is gonna mess it up. Seriously, the Lions are like that bloke at the bar who’s got three girls hanging all over him but is so oblivious he leaves the party to go roast a bowl and play Mario Kart with his mates.

There are too many question marks in The Motor City, particularly when players are more interested in next year’s paycheck than winning games.

In the AFC there’s far more intrigue and mystery

The AFC playoff hunt is more crowded than an Apple store when they’ve released one of their stupid new iPhones. You know – the ones that snap in your hipster skinny jeans.

And since it’s my job to make some sense of it all, I’m ready to make my pick.

Not my pick to ride all the way to Phoenix, but my personal favorite out of every team that wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended today.

Drumroll please…

That’s right. Pick up a Joe Flacco action doll because the Ravens are making another run when you least expect it.

Baltimore is faced with three very winnable games (Jaguars, Texans, Browns) and so they could very well end up winning out and finishing the season at (11-5).

They’ve won three of their last four and possess a much more potent offense than people give them credit for. I bet you didn’t know that the Ravens are ranked seventh in the NFL in points with 27.4 per game.

Yeah, I know, crazy.

They’ve been doing it quietly, but they’ve been doing it.

Flacco’s thrown 22 touchdowns to just 9 picks and journeyman running back Justin Forsett is having by far and away the best season of his career.

He’s so stoked about his recent success that he went as far as to write a blog post about it:

Oh, and he’s got a respectable 8 rushing touchdowns to go along with his cool 1,000-yard season.

Three more reasons to pick the Ravens

Along with an easy schedule, top-five run game (135.7 YPG) and an experienced clutch-ready quarterback, here are three more reasons why I’m taking Baltimore as my dark horse to not only make the playoffs but potentially make some waves.

It was just two years ago that the Ravens pulled off the shocker in Denver and then went on to win the Super Bowl.

1. The Ravens defense might be a shadow of its former self without Ray Lewis, but they’re giving up the sixth-fewest points per game at just 19.6.

This is good for more than a full touchdown differential between what they score and what they allow their opponent to score.

2. Experience matters. This team has strong leadership and a coaching staff that acts like they’ve been there.

John Harbaugh has already won one Super Bowl and so he’ll keep the ship steady when a young team (like the Browns) might get ahead of themselves.

3. Terrell Suggs. The veteran linebacker is having a Pro Bowl year, with 8.5 sacks. Plus, he’s on a mission.

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