The Baltimore Ravens are 6-2 and in good shape for a playoff run, but there's plenty of work left to do.
With a struggling defense and an inconsistent offense, the Ravens could have a tough time with a second-half schedule that features four likely playoff teams.
On the plus side, the Ravens will probably only have to win three or four games to get to the playoffs in a weak AFC. They should be able to manage that in their remaining eight games.
How the Ravens perform in these final eight games will decide where they end up in the playoffs.
The Ravens start off their second half with a home game against the mediocre Oakland Raiders.
Helping the Ravens' cause is the fact that Darren McFadden might not play. Even if he does break back into the lineup, he will be slowed due to his bum ankle.
Outside of McFadden, the Raiders lack talent on offense. Carson Palmer can no longer carry an offense, as he doesn't have the arm strength to take advantage of his speedy receivers.
On the other side of the ball, these Raiders allowed a near-record amount of rushing yards to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin last week. Ray Rice should find similar success.
Even though the Ravens have underperformed lately, this game has blowout written all over it. Regardless, expect the Ravens to extend their lead in the playoff race and move to 7-2.
The Ravens offense on the road against a resurgent Pittsburgh Steelers defense? Take the defense.
On defense, the Steelers are starting to find their 2011 form. They have the best pass defense in the NFL, meaning Joe Flacco will struggle.
One thing is worth noting, though: The Ravens struggle on the road, but they always bring their best performance to Pittsburgh. Pundits were discussing the Ravens' road struggles last year too, but they stunned the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Still, the Ravens simply aren't as talented as the Steelers, nor are they as disciplined. Expect them to bring one of their best road performances of the season, but it won't be enough, as they'll fall to 7-3, likely putting them in second in the division.
Last year, a talented and disciplined Ravens team traveled to San Diego in a must-win situation. The Ravens were completely embarrassed on national television and returned to Baltimore with their tails between their legs.
If last year's Ravens were embarrassed in San Diego, what will this year's version do? This team is not as talented, nor as disciplined as last year's team.
Sadly, this game has blowout written all over it in the Chargers' favor. The Ravens will struggle to stop the Chargers, and their offense will struggle to handle the long road trip.
Expect the Ravens to fall to 7-4.
After a two-game road trip, the Ravens will have to be thrilled to be playing at home. Even better will be hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens could bring their strongest performance of the season in this game. They will be extra motivated and happy to be home. Their fans will be as rabid as they've ever been, and the Ravens should have discovered some balance on offense by this point.
All that could add up to a signature win for the Ravens. Beating the Steelers here could be the difference between a wild card and a division championship.
Expect a Ravens victory as the Ravens advance to 8-4.
This is the very definition of a trap game. The Ravens will be emotionally drained after a three weak stretch in which they played their bitter rivals twice. They then have to travel on the road to take on a lesser opponent.
The Washington Redskins' record won't matter, though. The Ravens will still struggle in this game.
The Redskins' horrendous defense should enjoy playing the Ravens on the road. The Ravens have made even the worst of defenses look good on the road, being held to six points by Kansas City.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens could struggle to handle the Redskins; speed. Rookie running back Alfred Morris could also have a big day.
Don't be surprised when the Redskins beat the Ravens and bring them to 8-5.
If the Ravens' home winning streak is going to end, it will be at the hands of Peyton Manning.
The Ravens have always struggled against Manning, who is 7-2 against Baltimore.
Further, the Ravens defense is the weakest it has ever been. Manning and the Denver Broncos offense should have a field day.
Willis McGahee will also be extra motivated going against his former team. He will find running room against one of the league's worst defensive lines, which should tip the game in favor of the Broncos.
The Ravens might keep this one close, but they will fall to 8-6.
The Ravens will play host to another Manning here, and this time they might just do better.
At this point, the Ravens will hopefully realize how important each game is, which should help them bring their best performance to every remaining game.
Further, the Ravens should be able to run the ball effectively against the New York Giants defense. And when the Ravens run the ball effectively, they usually win.
The Giants are an excellent team, but they are vulnerable. The Ravens should take care of business and move to 9-6.
The Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals will both likely be playing for nothing at this point. The Bengals will be out of the playoff picture, while the Ravens will likely have locked up a spot.
Regardless, this should be a tough, physical affair between two teams who don't like each other.
The Ravens flattened the Bengals in Week 1, meaning the Bengals will be extra motivated to return the favor in Week 17.
The Ravens, meanwhile, could be flat if they've locked up a playoff spot. Being on the road won't help their cause either.
Don't be surprised if the Ravens fall to 9-7, completing a brutal second half.
Expectations for the Ravens should be low. Their defense is mediocre, their offense is streaky and they have played without passion for over a month now.
On the plus side, they should make the playoffs even at 9-7. The AFC is really that bad.
The Ravens have a brutal schedule, and paired with their recent struggles, this makes a division championship seem unlikely.
Still, a playoffs berth is a near certainty, so Ravens fans can look forward to watching their team into January yet again.