Why the Baltimore Ravens Are Still Alive in the AFC Playoff Picture

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Why the Baltimore Ravens Are Still Alive in the AFC Playoff Picture
Rob Carr/Getty Images
The Baltimore Ravens may still have this season right where they want it.

Following a thrilling finish in Week 10, the Baltimore Ravens nearly allowed a full-blown collapse on a game-tying Hail Mary to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals in regulation.

Fortunately, the team rallied to an overtime victory on the leg of Justin Tucker, who kicked a 46-yard field goal for the Ravens late in overtime to help crawl away with a 20-17 final score.

Baltimore now sits at 4-5 in a crowded AFC, trailing those same Bengals by 1.5 games in the division. What appeared to be a lost season could get interesting if the Ravens can rattle off a few wins in the coming weeks.

As it stands today, the Ravens are on the outskirts of the AFC playoff picture, sitting with a 10th seed among a logjam of teams vying for that final wild-card spot.

AFC Playoff Picture
Team Record Seed
Kansas City Chiefs 9-0 1st
New England Patriots 7-2 2nd
Indianapolis Colts 6-3 3rd
Cincinnati Bengals 6-4 4th
Denver Broncos 8-1 5th
New York Jets 5-4 6th
Miami Dolphins 4-5 7th
Tennessee Titans 4-5 8th
Cleveland Browns 4-5 9th
Baltimore Ravens 4-5 10th

NFL.com

Aside from the Denver Broncos being maybe the best fifth seed ever, the Ravens are among a rather weak group of teams searching for that sixth seed. History is also on their side.

The New York Jets last made the playoffs in 2010, with both the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans not making an appearance since 2008.

The downtrodden Cleveland Browns haven't been a part of the tournament in over a decade, last appearing in 2002.

Baltimore also has a legitimate opportunity to still win the division with an edge on the Bengals in the head-to-head matchup, demonstrating again how vital last week's matchup was to remain relevant in the AFC.

The Ravens' remaining schedule offers a solid opportunity to finish the second half of the season strong, concluding at Cincinnati in a matchup that could potentially determine the fate of the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens Remaining Schedule
Opponent Record
at Chicago Bears 5-4
vs. New York Jets 5-4
vs. Pittsburgh Steelers 3-6
vs. Minnesota Vikings 2-7
at Detroit Lions 6-3
vs. New England Patriots 7-2
at Cincinnati Bengals 6-4

NFL.com

This coming week's road game against the Chicago Bears originally looked like a tall order for the Ravens. However, with Jay Cutler suffering a high ankle sprain against the Detroit Lions, backup quarterback Josh McCown will get the start for the home team.

Originally a seven-point favorite, via TheSpread.com, the Bears have shrunk to a three-point favorite with the announcement of McCown, demonstrating a near-even matchup with the standard home-field advantage.

If Baltimore's defense can continue to play well—one that ranks eighth in points allowed with 21.0 and is tied for third in sacks with 32.0—the team is in great position to rebound to a .500 record heading into a three-game home stand.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Elvis Dumervil recorded 2.5 sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 and has 8.0 sacks for the season.

The stretch of home games returning from Chicago provides the Ravens a better opportunity to make a playoff push, as the opponent teams' combined record is a meager 10-17.

The game against the Jets will prove the most important against a fellow AFC team just within the fringe of the playoffs. Quarterback Joe Flacco will need to play more consistently and attack a New York defense that ranks 24th in passing yards allowed with 251.4.

Head coach John Harbaugh has also indicated a more balanced approach at running back with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce moving forward, via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com, which will hopefully help spark a rushing offense that ranks 30th in the NFL with 73.1 yards:

"Both of those guys are going to get a large number of carries, and I think whichever guy is playing better should get more carries as we go forward," Harbaugh said. "Both of those guys have to play for us and play well. You can’t have one back carrying the ball 35 times these days. We don’t need to do that; we think we've got two very good backs."

Looking ahead to the final three games of the season, the Ravens will likely face its most difficult challenge against both the Lions and New England Patriots, ending the season against the aforementioned Bengals.

Given the Ravens remaining schedule and landscape of the AFC, a 5-2 run to finish 9-7 just might slip them into the playoffs, with a watered-down conference outside of the top four teams.

It may not be the prettiest way to make it into postseason play, but the Ravens showed last year what they can do once the regular-season records are reset.

The team still has a ways to go in terms of shoring up areas of weakness, including the offensive line, running game and consistency at quarterback. But after playing out the remaining seven weeks, things may not be as dire as originally thought for Baltimore.

 

Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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