When Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal try sailed between the uprights with 38 seconds left & Matt Elam sealed the deal with Baltimore’s third interception of Matthew Stafford, it redeemed what had been an extended weekend of mostly bad news for the Purple and Black. Instead of sliding down the slippery slope, the Ravens regained their footing (pun most definitely intended!) in the playoff picture, & gained a clear shot at the AFC North championship with only two games to go.
LET’S REVIEW THE ACTION
At the opening of Week 15 the Ravens were tied with the Dolphins at 7-6, with the Chargers & Jets at 6-7, and the Titans & Steelers at 5-8. Denver led the AFC West with a 11-2 record with Kansas City a game back at 10-3, the Pats were cruising in the AFC East also at 10-3, Indianapolis had clinched the AFC South at 8-5, and Cincinnati had a two-game lead in the AFC North at 9-4.
San Diego shocked the Broncos Thursday night, 27-20; Miami held on vs New England, 24-20; Tennessee and the Jets lost to the Cards (37-34 in OT) and Panthers (30-20), respectively; and Pittsburgh ran out to a 24-0 lead & held on to defeat Cincy 30-20.
At the close of Monday’s action the Ravens and Fins lead the Wild Card (WC) hunt at 8-6, with the Chargers a game behind at 7-7 and the Steelers at 6-8. Denver had fallen back to 11-3, tied with KC (who stomped the Raiders 56-31); Indy beat the Texans 25-3 to improve to 9-5, while Cincy fell to 9-5 as well, and the Pats to 10-4. Baltimore retains its hold on the #6 seed by virtue of its 26-23 defeat of the Fins in Week 5.
More significantly, the Purple & Black are now only a game behind the Bengals. Should both teams win (or both lose) next week, their Week 17 rematch will be for the AFC North title and at least one home game.
THE .500 SOLUTION—still possible but a real stretch
Technically the Ravens could lose out & make the playoffs at 8-8, but it would require a lot of things breaking just right, i.e.:
- Pittsburgh loses at least once more (@GB, CLE) to finish no better than 7-9. (Why? The Steelers hold all the tiebreakers over the Ravens if both squads finish 8-8.)
- The Dolphins lose out (@BUF, NYJ) to finish 8-8, 2-4 AFCE. (Why? Um…)
- Either the Jets win out (CLE, @MIA) to also finish 8-8, 3-3 AFCE, & San Diego loses once more (OAK, KC) to finish at best 8-8—(Why? Jets at 8-8 eliminate the Dolphins before they can get out of the AFC East by better divisional record, then Ravens advance via head-to-head in a 2-way tie with them or via better AFC record in a 3-way tie with NYJ & SD)
- Or San Diego loses twice more. (Why? Only teams that can then reach 8-8 are NYJ and MIA, MIA is eliminated by NYJ whom Ravens beat in Week 12.)
THE 9-7 SCENARIOS
In any two-team tie at 9-7, the Ravens would advance (head-to-head over the Fins, better AFC record at 7-5 than the Bolts at 6-6). In a three-team tie between MIA, BAL & SD at 9-7, the Fins would advance on best AFC record (8-4). Therefore for the Ravens to advance at 9-7, both Miami and San Diego must lose at least one more game. This means that the Ravens cannot clinch a playoff spot by beating NE in Week 16 unless both Miami and San Diego also lose.
WINNING OUT—SEEDS OF DOUBT
If the Purple & Black win out, they are AFC North champions. That could mean anything from the #4 seed to the #2 seed:
- #4 seed: Indy wins out & New England wins its last game, both finishing 11-5. Why? W-L record. Baltimore would probably host KC (12-4 or 11-5), less probably DEN (would have to lose out to finish 11-5), on Wild Card Weekend.
- #3 seed: Two possibilities here:
- Irsays win out & Pats lose out. (Why? Indy is #2 seed at 11-5, Baltimore takes #3 seed over NE [ or MIA if it wins out & takes AFCE from NE] via head-to-head victories.) Ravens host #6 seed (MIA, CIN, NE, or SD) on Wild Card Weekend & with a win go to Indy.
- Irsays lose at least one to finish tied with Ravens, Pats win in Week 17 to finish 11-5. (Why? NE gets #2 seed, Colts & Ravens are both 8-4 AFC, but common games favor Baltimore 4-1 [DEN 0-1, CIN 2-0, HOU 1-0, MIA 1-0] to Indy’s 3-2 [DEN 1-0, CIN 0-1, HOU 2-0, MIA 0-1.] Ravens host #6 seed on Wild Card Weekend & with a win go to Foxboro.
- #2 seed: Again, two possibilities:
- Indy loses at least once more, Pats lose in week 17, both finishing 10-6; Miami loses at least once more to finish 9-7. (Why? No head-to-head; Ravens & Irsays are 8-4 in the AFC while Pats are 7-5, so Pats are #4 seed, and common games record [see above] give Indy the #3 and Baltimore the #2 seed.)
- Irsays & Pats both lose out while Miami wins out. (Why? MIA is AFC East champion over NE at 10-6 due to better division record, IND is #4 seed at 9-7, and Ravens are #2 seed by virtue of win over Fins.)
Note that if Poe’s Crows win out, the Bengals defeat the Vikings this week, the Fins win out, & the Pats lose out, all four teams end up at 10-6—Miami wins the AFC East, Cincy gets the #6 seed, and the Cheatriots go home (this possibility is why NE hasn’t already clinched a berth.)
That #2 seed would be sweet—a week off & either IND, NE or KC at the Vault, & a win then could even lead to a home game for the AFC Championship….
But (as they said repeatedly and memorably in “Airplane!”) that’s not important now. What’s Important Now is to WIN & let the seeds fall where they may.