Can the Baltimore Ravens Still Make a Charge for the AFC North Crown?

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Can the Baltimore Ravens Still Make a Charge for the AFC North Crown?
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Flacco has been inconsistent this season with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The Baltimore Ravens lost a tough matchup against the Chicago Bears last week, falling 23-20 in overtime on a Robbie Gould 38-yard field goal. 

A two-hour weather delay halted momentum for the Ravens, who were leading 10-0 at the time. Essentially, it gave the Bears an extra intermission to revise their game plan and make adjustments.

Chicago stormed back and took the edge for the remainder of the contest, improving its own playoff hopes while seriously damaging its opponent's.

The Ravens now sit at 4-6 in the basement of the AFC North. They trail the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals, who easily handled the Cleveland Browns 41-20 on Sunday.

While it may seem like the season is lost after last year's Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco, fell at the hands of backup quarterback Josh McCown, the Ravens surprisingly still have an outside chance to make a run in their division.

First, let's take look at Baltimore's remaining schedule:

Baltimore Ravens Remaining Schedule
Date Opponent Time (ET)
Sun, Nov 24 vs New York Jets 1:00 PM
Thur, Nov 28 vs Pittsburgh Steelers 8:30 PM
Sun, Dec 8 vs Minnesota Vikings 1:00 PM
Mon, Dec 16 at Detroit Lions 8:30 PM
Sun, Dec 22 vs New England Patriots 8:30 PM
Sun, Dec 29 at Cincinnati Bengals 1:00 PM

ESPN.com

The Steelers have a fortunate three-game stretch, facing three teams at home with a combined 11-19 record. The question will be which version of Joe Flacco decides to show up.

Flacco threw for a pedestrian 162 yards and one touchdown in Chicago. More importantly, he threw two interceptions in the contest, giving him 13 on the year to match his touchdown total.

The passer rating of 53.4 was Flacco's worst this season since throwing five interceptions against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, posting a 46.4 rating.

While the Ravens' signal-caller clearly struggled given the weather conditions, running back Ray Rice had his best game of the season, rushing 25 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Ray Rice has struggled this season, but had his best game of the season against the Chicago Bears.

If the Ravens' offensive line can maintain that kind of push for Rice and Flacco can rebound to his above-average self, they should be able get some momentum going after stumbling last week.

But the team must go 3-0 in the first half of these remaining games to have any life left in the division. Baltimore has already lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, giving the Steelers an edge with the same record of 4-6.

The Steelers also still face the Browns twice this season, so they may be playing out their own hypothetical run to the playoffs—a rather amazing feat after starting the season 0-4.

The final three games for the Ravens are a bit of a daunting task, although the New England Patriots have struggled on the road this season, losing all three of their games away from home.

The Detroit Lions are not the same bag-over-the-head club of the past, as they lead the NFC North with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson—a near-unstoppable duo.

However, the club did lose last week on the road to the Steelers, displaying weakness on defense with the 37-27 loss. Ben Roethlisberger threw for four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Baltimore likely needs to come away with a win against either the Patriots or Lions to leave any hope for a division crown against the Bengals in Week 17.

With a win in Cincinnati, the Ravens would own the outright tiebreaker against the Bengals with a 2-0 head-to-head record this season.

However, Cincinnati needs to do its own part in faltering in the same final stretch of the season. The team is currently on its bye week but will return to face the San Diego Chargers on the road and then host the Indianapolis Colts.

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The Ravens need losses in both of those games before the Bengals embark on a similar schedule with the Steelers on the road and Vikings at home. All of this builds up to a potentially dramatic Week 17 matchup.

When breaking down the Bengals' schedule, a 2-2 record before the final week seems reasonable. This means Baltimore can only lose one more game for the rest of the season to preserve a 9-7 record.

The loss against the Bears without Jay Cutler really hurt the Raven's chances to make a charge for the division, especially with a Bengals' win alongside it. 

The deck is stacked against the reigning Super Bowl champions, but crazier things have happened.

Just look at the playoffs last year.

 

All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted. 

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

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