And even that might not be enough.
After subjecting their fans to the worst home defeat in their 18-year history, the Ravens’ chances of reaching the postseason are on life support, requiring major help from other teams that in all likelihood would have no objective reason to provide it.
Let’s review Sunday’s action:
Miami lost to Buffalo 19-0; San Diego joined them and Baltimore at 8-7 by defeating Oakland 26-13, while Pittsburgh improved to 7-8 by beating Green Bay 38-31. Meanwhile Denver clinched the AFC West and a first-round bye, defeating Houston 37-13 while Kansas City lost at home to Indianapolis 23-7. The Chiefs are now locked into the #5 seed.
The Bengals stomped the Vikings 42-14 which coupled with the Ravens’ embarrassing loss won them the AFC North and the #3 seed, with a chance at a first round bye if the Bills trip the Pats in Foxboro next week.
Here are the playoff-clinching scenarios for Week 17:
Even if the Ravens beat the Bengals they will need help to reach the postseason, for if Miami and San Diego also win to create a 3-way tie at 9-7, Miami takes the #6 seed on the strength of best AFC record (8-4 to 7-5 for Baltimore and 6-6 for San Diego). If either the Jets beat (or tie) the Fins in Miami or the Chiefs beat (or tie) the Bolts in San Diego, Baltimore advances in either possible 2-way tie at 9-7 (head to head vs Miami, better AFC record vs San Diego).
If all 3 teams at 8-7 lose, the Jets would join the Crows, Fins & Bolts at 8-8. If just those 4 teams are tied, the Ravens become the #6 seed. (Why? Tiebreaking procedures say, “Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2.” Gang Green & Fins would have split head to head, division records both 3-3, but next tiebreaker is games versus common opponents, and here the Jets would eliminate the Dolphins (7-7 vs 6-8). There is no head to head among the remaining teams, so Baltimore advances with a 6-6 AFC record vs NYJ & SD at 5-7.)
The fly in the ointment is that a fifth team could finish at 8-8: Pittsburgh, by beating Cleveland at home. The Steelers hold the tiebreaks over the Ravens & would eliminate them & then sneak into the dance at #6 with a better AFC record than either NYJ or SD. (Crow fans who spent Sunday afternoon barfing their guts out may now welcome the dry heaves…)
So the Ravens could reach the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year, if In Week 17 either
• Baltimore defeats Cincinnati while Miami or San Diego fails to win (i.e., loses or ties), or
• Baltimore ties with Cincinnati while either Miami or San Diego loses while the other fails to win, or
• Miami and San Diego lose while Pittsburgh fails to win.
The main problem for Poe’s Crows is that all the teams that would need to not-win are playing at home with some hope of making the playoffs vs opponents with little or nothing to gain from a win. (Even the Bengals will still be alive for the #2 seed if both BAL@CIN and BUF@NE are played at the same time.)
Divisional rivalries can go any which way (as Miami discovered in Buffalo early Sunday), and Rex Ryan might save his job with a strong finish…but Andy Reid has no reason not to rest his starters. (And pretty fair precedent to do so: The 2012 Ravens, who played backups in a meaningless season finale vs Cincy & went on to win the Lombardi.)
Putting the Ravens’ humiliating performance vs a banged-up Pats team against the relative ease with which their potential first-round playoff opponents won, it’s hard to feel very hopeful about a sixth straight trip to the dance. Then again, last year they lost 4 of their last 5 games to back into the postseason, and it’s hard to argue with the outcome.
* Jim Mora, Indianapolis coach after a 40-21 loss to San Francisco on Nov. 25, 2001 dropped his team to 4-6.