Baltimore Ravens: Path To the Playoffs

Ryan MavityCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 13:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Lions 48-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Festivus is at hand for the Baltimore Ravens.

With two weeks remaining in the season, the Ravens are this close to getting into the postseason party.

The path is tantalizingly simple: beat Pittsburgh and Oakland the next two Sundays and you're in. If the Ravens accomplish that, they would not only make the playoffs, but would also have an outside chance at the AFC North crown with two losses by the Cincinnati Bengals. That's clearly the best-case scenario, albeit a long-shot since the Bengals are facing lowly Kansas City this week.

Still, with a little help, the Ravens could even clinch a spot this weekend with a win over Pittsburgh and either:

The hardest part of all that is on the Ravens' end. The Steelers managed to revive their own playoff hopes with a last-second win over the Green Bay Packers last week and will have Raven-killer Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, something they did not have when the Ravens beat their Steel City rivals in Baltimore.

The Ravens, who have struggled with pass defense most of the year, will be without the services of Lardarius Webb, who had emerged as the team's top cornerback and kick returner. Corey Ivy was signed to help fill the void, but any Ravens fan familiar with Ivy's work the last few seasons is biting their nails Roethlisberger doesn't find him Sunday.

The good news is the Ravens are not facing your father's Steelers D, a unit that has been gashed since it lost All-World safety Troy Polamalu. Ray Rice and Joe Flacco have revved things up in back-to-back routs over Detroit and Chicago and will look to continue the momentum offensively.

If the Ravens can take care of business against their bitter rivals, the other pieces could fall into place. Jacksonville must travel to New England, where the Patriots are unbeaten at home. Struggling Denver must visit the lions den of Philadelphia. Miami faces similarly desperate Houston, and the Jets face unbeaten Indianapolis.

Should the Ravens get into the playoffs, they will likely be the fifth or sixth seed and get a rematch with either Cincinnati or New England.

The Bengals, despite beating the Ravens twice this year, seem the more favorable match-up. While the Bengal defense remains tough, the offense has been less than impressive, and there's no telling what effect the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry will have on the club.

The Ravens should have handed New England its first home less of the season. The Purple and Black were at the doorstep of a win in their Week 4 match-up until Mark Clayton's Edward Scissorhands impression intervened. Despite New England looking ripe for the pickings, facing Brady and company in Foxborough in the postseason would be a tough order indeed.

All goes out the window if the Ravens fail to win against Pittsburgh Sunday. While the team would still have the inside track over the rest of the seven-loss teams, there is still the possibility they could miss the playoffs.

So in a nutshell, for the Ravens to have another crack at the Super Bowl and make the road to the playoffs as simple as possible, they should take a phrase out of Al Davis' book: "Just Win Baby."