Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Do the Playoffs Start Sunday Night?

Paul StaggContributor IIDecember 3, 2010

Two outstanding young coaches
Two outstanding young coachesAl Bello/Getty Images

Ravens vs. Steelers has become one of the best rivalries in the NFL.  In the physical AFC North, these are the perennial standard bearers.

They play on Sunday night in prime time.

The two teams are tied at the top of the AFC North, both with 8-3 records.  The Ravens have the tiebreaker for now, having beaten the Steelers earlier this season.

If the Ravens win this game, they will essentially be up by two games for the division title (they would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and be up by one game).  They could go 2-2 to close out the season at 11-5 and still win the division, earning a spot in the playoffs, at least one home playoff game and a likely first-round bye. 

The Ravens' remaining schedule is at Houston, home against New Orleans, at Cleveland and home against Cincinnati.  Ravens fans have to be pretty confident they can come out of that stretch of games 2-2.   

If the Steelers win the game, they will essentially be up by a game-and-a-half (they would, at least for now, own the conference record tiebreaker).  Likewise, as the winner of the division, they would be looking at a home playoff game and likely a bye.

Their remaining schedule has three home games in a row against the Bengals, Jets and Panthers, then on the road to finish out the season against the Browns.

Both teams face similar schedules to finish out the year.  They both play the Browns and Bengals, and then have one tough team (Jets, Saints) and one "average" team (Panthers, Texans).  It's reasonable, given how similar the Steelers and Ravens are, to think the winner of the division will be determined Sunday night.

While for now second place in the AFC North looks good enough for a Wild Card spot, the Colts and Chargers can't be left out of any playoff discussion yet.

Given the records and the schedules, the winner of Sunday night's game is a virtual lock in the playoffs.  But the loser, at 8-4, would still have a very good shot.

So it's certainly a big game, but it's not the playoffs yet.

Paul is a Ravens Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report

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