The Baltimore Ravens have played their way back in to the playoffs with two dominant victories over the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Now they have to beat their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, even if the Ravens beat Pittsburgh, it does not guarantee them a playoff spot, at least not yet.
If Baltimore wants to make it simple and clinch the playoffs, all they have to do is defeat Pittsburgh Sunday and defeat the Raiders in Oakland on Jan. 3. The Ravens will go 10-6 if this happens, and most likely clinch the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs.
There are a few ways that the Ravens can clinch a playoff with a win on Sunday. The first way for the Ravens to clinch with a win is with losses or ties by Jacksonville and the Jets on Sunday. Of course these two teams could very easily lose this weekend. The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the New England Patriots and the New York Jets must face the Indianapolis Colts. For both teams, that’s no easy task.
If the Ravens tie this weekend, they can still clinch a playoff berth, but it gets more complex. For Baltimore to clinch the playoffs with a tie this weekend, Jacksonville and New York must lose, while Tennessee must lose or tie, and Houston and Miami have to tie each other. This is the most unlikely of all the scenarios for a wild card berth.
A very unlikely scenario for Baltimore is the one where they win the AFC North. For this to happen the Ravens have to win out against Pittsburgh and Oakland while the Cincinnati Bengals lose out. The Bengals, of course, swept the Ravens so they hold the head to head tiebreaker, so if the teams both finish with the same record Cincinnati gets the nod. However, if Cincinnati loses to Kansas City and the New York Jets they will fall to 9-7 and hand the Ravens the AFC North.
As for the team finishing down the stretch, I predict two wins. Beating Pittsburgh is always tough for the Ravens, but they’ve swept the Steelers before and can do it again. Oakland is very much an enigma. The Raiders have upset Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Denver, but have also looked awful at times this year. If Baltimore beats Pittsburgh, and I think they will, they will beat Oakland to assure themselves of a playoff berth.
If the Ravens win out and get the fifth seed, they will most likely get to see Cincinnati for a third time. The Bengals totally dominated the Ravens the second time the two teams squared off, but a lot has changed since that game. Baltimore’s secondary, although thin, has tightened up and the Bengals receiving corps has thinned out with the loss of Chris Henry.
Of course Cincinnati could still get the three seed, in which case the Ravens would get the New England Patriots. The Patriots are another the Ravens faced earlier this season. A lot of people in Baltimore believe the Ravens would won that game had it not been for a few bad calls by the referees. If there’s a rematch between these two that will be a fun game to watch.
The best-case scenario for the Ravens is to win out and get the AFC’s fifth seed. I’d like to see them take on Cincinnati for a third time. That game would be a hard-hitting, physical game that will be close to the end.
The worst-case scenario for Baltimore is to lose out, go 8-8 and finish out of the playoffs. If the Ravens finish 8-8 it would be a huge disappointment to the fan base, but also to a team that went all the way to the AFC Championship game last season. However, if they do go 8-8 it would be understandable because of all of the injuries to the secondary Baltimore has suffered this season.
For now, the team, and its fans, will ride it and see what happens Sunday against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.