With a big win over the Redskins, the Ravens are still plugging along successfully on their way to a playoff berth. That three game losing streak really feels distant right now doesn't it? Unfortunately, once again, the only team that decided to help our Ravens out this week were the San Francisco 49ers, only increasing the debt of gratitude us Ravens fans have for the excellent coach Mike Singletary (I was so angry when people were trashing him after the drama of his first NFL game. Anyone notice how well he's done as an interim HC. Of course, I love Mike Nolan too, so it's bittersweet).
The 49ers beating the Jets helped the Ravens even more than I had expected, because while it gives us three opponents from the AFC East for the playoffs, the best of those three teams will be the Division champion, so we're only competing against the second best of the Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins. Because the Dolphins and the Jets play eachother in week 17, those teams have a maximum of 5 games between them. Also worth nothing that if either the Jets or the Dolphins go 3-0, then they win their division with certainty.
What this means for the Ravens is that if the Ravens go 2-1, they win a wild card spot with certainty, as they'll have a better conference record than the Patriots, and only one of the Jets or Miami can go 3-0 and that will make them the division champion. This leaves the Patriots as our most dangerous competition for a Wild Card spot. NE could easily go 3-0, and if that makes life difficult if the Ravens go 1-2.
Dallas, however, did us no favors in giving away that Pittsburgh game. An awful 4th quarter meltdown makes it very difficult for the Ravens to take the division. There are exactly two possibilities that would cause a division victory. First, I'm excluding the possibility that a Ken Dorsey led Browns can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. It's just not going to happen. This means that we need to beat the Steelers, and we need the Titans to beat them also. If that happens, we can take the division by beating the Cowboys and Jaguars. Alternatively, we can take the division if we lose to the Cowboys by the Strength of Victory tiebreaker (we ABSOLUTELY have to beat the Jags). SOV is going to be really really hard, we're better off winning out (but that's also going to be really hard playing the Cowboys in Dallas under their terms and conditions. The Steelers got to play them at home with a freezing field and no Marion Barber to expose their passing game to turnovers). SOV boils down to the combined records of the Raiders (3-10), Dolphins (8-5), and Eagles (7-5-1) being better than the combined record of the Chargers (5-8), Patriots (8-5), and Cowboys (8-5). As you can see, the Steelers have a freaking 2.5 game lead in this tiebreaker. Sheesh.
1) Patriots @ Oakland - If NE loses this game, they fall behind us permanently in tiebreakers, and the only way they could finish ahead of us in record is if they win their last two games and we lose all three of our games. Also, this would give us a full one game boost in the SOV tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. New England is the biggest threat to keep us out of the playoffs right now.
2) Bills @ Jets - The Jets have much better tiebreakers against us than Miami does, which makes them a dangerous team also. An upset win for Buffalo will be a big help.
3) 49ers @ Dolphins - Please keep up the good work Mike Singletary and the SF 49ers! Still, we have the tiebreakers over the Dolphins and a Dolphins win would give us a .5 SOV gain on the Steelers. By far the least important of the 3 NFC East games.
4a) Giants @ Dallas - Gives us .5 a win in the SOV tiebreaker, plus another loss for Dallas might cause a meltdown in that fragile locker room.
4b) Browns @ Eagles - Watch the Browns, after failing to win any games that might have helped us out, beat the Eagles to give Pitt a .5 SOV gain. Still, with the way McNabb/Westbrook/JJ are performing, this is a likely .5 win for us.
4c) Chargers @ Chiefs - The Chiefs are one of the weirder bad teams in the league, but we can't expect them to beat the Chargers, as they are still terrible. Still, where there is life there is hope.
7) Titans @ Texans - If we beat Pittsburgh, but the Titans beat the Texans, they will have no incentive to play hard against Pittsburgh, having clinched home field advantage. Maybe Fisher rests his starters, maybe not, but we absolutely need the Titans to beat the Steelers to have a shot at the Division Title.
8) Lions @ Indy - The "Keep Dreaming" game of the week. This is actually not very important anymore. As shake n bake said, we are basically competing with Indy for the #5 seed. If we can win some games, we'll be able to stave off the AFC East teams. If we can't, than Indy losing games won't help us because they still have the tiebreaker over us.
This should be an exciting weekend for football, and a win against the Steelers will be by far the best help we could give ourselves heading into the final stretch. Nevertheless, I'd love to see some help from these eight teams this weekend.