Ravens kick themselves over most frustrating finish in team history

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens aren't going to the playoffs because they failed to finish.

Sunday's 31-27 heartbreaking loss to the Cincinnati Bengals falls on the defense not being able to stop the Bengals when it counted.

After spending most of their attention in free agency and the draft on defense, the Ravens allowed a 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 with under a minute remaining. This comes after Baltimore had rallied from a 14-point deficit to take its first lead in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens had a projected 97 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. But everything went wrong for the Ravens -- Baltimore lost and Tennessee and Buffalo won.

Season grade: Average. The Ravens overcame a rough 4-5 start, season-ending injuries to six potential starters (cornerback Jimmy Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta, guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, running back Kenneth Dixon, and defensive end Brent Urban) and two retirements (linebacker Zachary Orr and offensive lineman John Urschel) to finish with a 9-7 record, their seventh winning season in 10 years under coach John Harbaugh. But this overachieving team will be kicking itself all offseason for not reaching the postseason after controlling its playoff fate. Baltimore has missed out on the playoffs in four of five seasons since winning the Super Bowl, including the past three years.

Season in review: This was the most frustrating finish to a regular season in the franchise's 22-year existence. The Ravens failed to clinch a playoff berth because they were unable to beat the struggling Bengals at home -- despite being 9.5-point favorites. The devastating last game overshadows one of the better turnarounds this season. The Ravens entered the finale as one of the NFL's hottest teams, winning five of their last six games. Baltimore led the NFL in takeaways and became the AFC's highest-scoring team in the second half of the season. The Ravens took advantage of what became a softer-than-anticipated schedule. Seven of Baltimore's nine wins came against teams starting a rookie or backup quarterback. But, in the end, getting routed in London by the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing in overtime to the lowly Chicago Bears and falling in the final minute in Pittsburgh came back to haunt Baltimore.

Biggest play of season: Eric Weddle's missed tackle against the Bears. Weddle failed to bring down running back Jordan Howard, who broke a 53-yard run to set up a winning field goal in a 27-24 overtime loss to Chicago. This capped a day in which the Ravens gave up a franchise-worst 231 yards rushing.

He said it: "There's nothing more disappointing in the world than mediocrity." -- linebacker Terrell Suggs after the loss to the Bears

Key offseason questions:

Biggest draft need: Wide receiver and tight end. The Ravens are in desperate need of offensive playmakers. At wide receiver, Mike Wallace is a free agent, Jeremy Maclin could get cut after a being a major disappointment and Breshad Perriman has been a first-round bust. It's not much better at tight end, where 37-year-old (and free agent) Ben Watson was the only reliable target.

Free-agency targets: Someone like Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham would be atop the wish list, but that doesn't seem likely at this point. The Ravens are projected to have one of the worst cap situations in the NFL next season, according to Over The Cap. Baltimore has just $12 million in cap space in 2018, which means the team won't be very active in free agency unless it restructures or releases veterans. The Ravens' typical targets are players who get cut because it doesn't affect their compensatory picks. The Packers' Jordy Nelson would be another possibility if he's released.

Quarterback of future? The Ravens are contractually married to Joe Flacco through the 2018 season and probably the 2019 season (when they can gain $20 million by releasing him). This could be the right time to draft a quarterback in the middle rounds and look to groom him for a couple of years. Baltimore has selected only one quarterback in the past six drafts and hasn't taken one in the first five rounds since Flacco in 2008. Flacco, who turns 33 in January, hasn't lived up to one of the richest contracts in the NFL.

Major priority: Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is entering the final season of his rookie deal, and he has certainly earned a long-term deal. Mosley has made the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons and has been one of the most consistent players on the team. Plus, the Ravens can lower his $8.7 salary-cap figure with an extension.

Potential cap cuts: The Ravens can create $5 million in cap room by cutting Maclin, who set career lows in catches (40), receiving yards (440) and yards per catch (11.0). Baltimore can free up an additional $7 million by parting ways with solid veteran starters in cornerback Brandon Carr ($4 million) and right tackle Austin Howard ($3 million).