Although there are just two weeks to go in the regular season, I don’t know if I can take much more excitement.
The Ravens once again proved how clutch they are. Stats matter, but their best collective asset can’t be quantified. Some teams might say they believe or they have faith, but the Ravens mean it.
I’ve been around and have studied the team and their organization enough to know that’s not talk—it’s who they are.
Three of the top contenders in the AFC (Denver, New England and Cincinnati) all lost divisional games in Week 15, making the path to the playoffs for the Ravens much more intriguing (and potentially more rewarding).
In the NFC, the top two threats (Seattle and San Francisco) travelled cross-country and beat up on two teams that won’t make the playoffs (New York Giants and Tampa Bay). Does that mean the Seahawks and 49ers should be taken less seriously or that their stock shouldn’t rise? No way. You play who’s on your schedule and you don’t apologize for wins.
To use another coaching axiom, at this point in the season, you are who you are. Meaning, identities have been established. Schemes can be tweaked, but if you’re going to make the playoffs, you’re going to have do the best you can with what you have.
Here are the five teams who I think have done the best job so far.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
Seattle is the only team in the league that is undefeated at home and has a winning record on the road. No. 1 seed or not, every team is going to have to win away from their home stadium if they want to win the Super Bowl.
2. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The 49ers are one of five teams in the NFL to have a point differential of +120 or more. You know a team is dangerous when you know what they’re going to do and they still do it.
San Francisco is going to beat you up on defense, pound the rock on offense and has an elite kicking game. Since Week 4, they’ve only lost two games by a total of three points. They’re for real.
3. Denver Broncos (11-3)
San Diego was desperate and Denver wasn’t. That’s basically why the Chargers won in Denver last Thursday night.
Look for Peyton Manning to go bonkers this Sunday at Houston. He needs four touchdown passes in these next two games to break Tom Brady’s all-time record of 50 touchdown passes in one season. Manning could very well break that record in the first half.
They know they can’t coast anymore.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
The Chiefs may not go far in the playoffs, but they are not a fluke. With two games to play, they’ve already won nine more games in 2013 than they won in 2012.
Of the 12 current playoff teams, only two (Kansas City, Philadelphia) have a better record on the road than they do at home. That’s good for the Chiefs because if Denver wins out, the Chiefs would be the 5th seed in the playoffs, meaning they’d start the postseason away from Arrowhead.
5. New England Patriots (10-4)
This was a tough call. Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans and Carolina all have an argument to be on this list.
The Patriots lost last week without the services of Rob Gronkowski. However they are 5-2 without him this year. They will face their biggest test of the season on Sunday when they go to Baltimore to play a surging, but still desperate Ravens team.
Game of the week: New England (10-4, 3-4 road) at Baltimore (8-6, 6-1 home) on Sunday, December 22 at 4:25 P.M. on CBS. Current Vegas line: Ravens -2.5. Over/under: 45.
Ravens playoff position: The Ravens are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race. Their main contenders for that spot are Miami (8-6) and San Diego (7-7).
The combined records of remaining opponents:
• Baltimore: 19-9 (67.9 percent)
• San Diego: 15-13 (53.6 percent)
• Miami: 11-17 (39.3 percent)
If the Ravens win their next two games, they will win the AFC North for the third consecutive year.