The Ravens finally broke above .500 in Week 14 after what might be the craziest game-ending 125 seconds in NFL history to remain in possession of the #6 seed if the playoffs started next week. Other than that, it was a wintry mixed bag for the Purple and Black.
Let’s review the action
At the start of play, Baltimore and Miami stood at 6-6, with the Steelers, Titans, Jets, and Chargers a game back at 5-7. Holding onto the #6 seed by virtue of its 26-23 conquest of the Fins in Week 5, the Ravens could claim that seed by winning their last 4 games.
Miami defeated Pittsburgh 34-28 in the Bad Karma Bowl (Antonio Brown stepping on the sidelines in a last-gasp multi-lateral play to negate what looked like the tying TD) to drop the Yinzers to 5-8. The Flaming Thumbtacks hung tough against the Nags in Denver & actually led 21-20 at halftime before succumbing, 51-28, also dropping to 5-8. The Rexes defeated the Black & Silver 37-27 while the Bolts cruised to a 37-14 victory at home over the Giants.
At the close of AFC play, the Ravens and Dolphins remained tied at 7-6, with the Jets and Chargers each a game back at 6-7. Baltimore goes to the playoffs if it wins out to finish 10-6. With victories over both AFC East candidates, and a 2-game lead over the Bolts in conference losses (4 vs 6), Poe’s Crows will also reach the postseason at 9-7, except in 2 specific scenarios:
• Miami wins out (vs NE, @BUF, vs NYJ) to finish 10-6; or
• Miami loses once and San Diego wins out, both finishing 9-7, and Baltimore’s 7th loss is to an AFC team*—here the tiebreakers go to conference record, and the Fins (currently 6-3 in the AFC) would take the 6th seed at 8-4 AFC versus the Crows’ 7-5 and the Bolts’ 6-6.
(*If Baltimore loses to Detroit but win its last two games to end up 9-7, it would take the #6 seed in a 3-way tie with Miami and San Diego. Why? With no head-to-head sweep, tiebreaking drops to conference record, but here Crows and Fins would both be 8-4 while Bolts would be 6-6; San Diego would be eliminated, tiebreaking would revert to the top of the order, and the Week 5 win in Miami would give Baltimore the nod.)
I still do not think the Fins will run the table, even though their victory in Condiment Coliseum this week shows they can win in bad weather & the Pats have lost Gronkowski for the year. But that does seem more likely than the Bolts running the table on their 3 divisional rivals (@DEN, OAK, KC).
(No doubt there are meshuggeh scenarios in which the AFC #6 seed is an 8-8 team, which throws the Titans and [ugh] Steelers back into the conversation. There may be something to say about this vile possibility later in the week, but don’t hold your breath—even bracketologists get confoozled at times.)
The AFC North: A Reach, Perhaps A Grasp
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
(Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”)
By defeating Indianapolis 42-28, Cincinnati maintained its 2-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North. For the Ravens to win the division, the Bengals must lose 1 more game than they do over the next 2 weeks & then lose to Baltimore in the regular season finale. The consensus is that the Large Orange Tabbies are more likely to lose at Pittsburgh next Sunday evening than hosting the Vikings the week after; if they defeat the Steelers again, they may well clinch the division before the Ravens get another crack at them.
Games To Watch
This sets up a straightforward schedule of key games for the Crow faithful to follow prior to Monday night’s Ravens-Lions tilt:
• SD@DEN, Thursday night: A Ponies’ win or tie cancels the 3-way tie at 9-7 scenario described above, a Bolts’ victory keeps it alive (or should we say “reanimated”)
• NE@MIA, Sunday at 1 PM: A Pats win (especially after a Bolts loss) provides the Crows some breathing space, a Fins win or tie keeps the pressure on
• CIN@PGH, Sunday at 8:30 PM: A Steelers win (yecch) opens the door for the Ravens to win the AFC North by winning out, a Bengals win all but clinches the division for them
In the most favorable of all possible worlds, the Nags, Cheats and (as much as it pains me to say it) Yinzers will have won, and the Purple and Black would win the division outright by winning out, or take the #6 seed by winning any 2 of their remaining games.
Heady stuff for a team that was on life support just 3 weeks ago…
In any event by their Monday morning wake-up call in the Motor City, the Ravens will have a much better idea of what they must do & what they might earn going forward.