I was looking at Football Outsiders' weekly playoff odds report, which is always a great read, and it led me to think about some early seeding scenarios.
I won't repeat their data here but let's think about where the Ravens are ideally suited to wind up (assuming they do make the dance).
Right now the strongest teams are (in order of odds%): Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, New England, Cinci, Baltimore (there are other strong candidates like TEN and NYJ and MIA but lets go with those 6 for now)
Kansas City is almost assuredly a shoo in for the 5th seed. At 5-0 they are in serious division contention but lets assume for a second that they can't really challenge Denver for that. KC then is a lock for the 5th seed wild card with current projections (lets assume it for now).
That makes them, IMO, an attractive opponent for the playoffs, meaning us having the 4th seed. They are a much improved team for sure, particularly on D (which we saw last year to a degree) but Alex Smith is just a more enticing match-up given the D we have also.
However that comes with the obvious hurdle of almost assuredly having to rematch with Denver.
Thus, the 4th seed is good for a wild card matchup, but not so for the Divisional. The caveat is, unless the 6th seed wins their game, which given the teams in the AFC, is very possible (CIN for example would likely be the 6th sd if we are 4th) which would then match up the 4th with the 2nd seed instead.
Getting the 2nd seed is obviously a best case scenario but would be a stretch I think we can agree and it would require us to beat New England, sweep Cinci , and honestly probably not lose anymore AFC games (or hope regression finally hits Indy like many expected it to). Frankly I doubt we have the offense to achieve that but still, Indy has won big games but they were NFC teams so losses to more AFC teams would harm them a lot. Its possible but requires some help from others.
The 3rd seed is very viable. It would require at least a win over New England and probably some other breaks. The problem of course is that Indy and NE play far easier schedules thanks to their division. Nevertheless, if the Ravens make the 3rd seed that practically guarantees a playoff game with Cincinnati (again remember KC is almost a lock for the 5th seed barring a massive letdown later on by them). This has the added benefit of matching us up with Indianapolis or New England (as the two best candidates for the 2 seed) who are in my mind, far less dangerous than Denver.
The 5th seed is unlikely for us due to what KC is doing so far.
The 6th seed is what we can expect if we finish strong but fail to close out Cincinnati if they continue with strong play. That, again, pretty much sets us up for any number of possibilities of NE, IND, or CIN. That would also guarantee a trip to Denver should we win that game.
A lot is going to happen to throw this into flux. Namely, does Houston get back on track? if they beat the Colts, that will greatly hinder Indy's chances for a bye or 3 seed. If Houston fails there, they are in trouble due to tiebreakers with us. They have the tiebreaker with TEN right now though.
Whether NYJ and MIA challenge NE at all is another big one. NYJ let a HUGE opportunity get away from them in week 2. MIA lost a painful game to us that may have implication for a WC tiebreaker. I don't think either team will challenge NE especially with Gronk coming back but its hardly impossible either (frankly I hope they do though). NE's defense is very sound despite losing Wilfork.
The 6th seed is going to be very competitive. This is not a season to get in on a flimsy 9-7 rec unless you own every damn tiebreaker. And if you do, the road will be hard. Contrast that with 2008 where Tennessee was IMO the more attractive divisional matchup to say, PIT or SD.
The Colts' improvement somewhat amazes me - they were not a very good team last year. They spent poorly and hastily in the offseason believing they could compete in 2013. I thought that horribly unwise but they have just rattled off huge wins against NFC contenders. We'll see with them but they are lucky to be playing a second place schedule. Losing to Miami though was a huge blow. They need to win their division games as does everyone else.
For us, obviously it boils down to the same thing every year- we have to beat Cincinnati (whereas in the past it was the Steelers). if we do that, and better yet, get a 3rd seed, the road to the AFC championship is greatly improved.
It'll be fun to watch. I for one, off topic of Baltimore for a second, hope that TEN, MIA and NYJ can make some magic happen - no one wants the same old teams (though, KC is making lots of magic happen so credit to them).
Moreover, I would rather play THOSE teams in the Playoffs than CIN or NE.
Bottom line. Winning the Division is an absolute must as the WC competition will be very contentious and a hard playoff road. We all hope for the best, but realistically, the 3rd seed looks like the best combination of viable playoff road with a realistic chance of happening.
anyway, enjoy, and I'll revisit this in a few weeks.