Unless I'm wrong, which I rarely am, if the playoffs started today, the Ravens would be the top Wild Card and go on the road to Denver to play the Denver Broncos in the first round. The seedings, in order, would be the division winners: Tennesee, Pittsburgh, New England, Denver. The two Wild Cards would be the Ravens and the Jets, in that order, as the Ravens have the better division and conference record than the Jets. The Patriots would host the Jets in the other first round game while the Titans and Steelers would get first round byes and await the winners. Going on the road to beat the Broncos, Steelers and Titans would be a great streak, and should remind you of what happened in 2000-01.
In the NFC, the division winners would be, in order of seeding, Giants, Carolina, Arizona, Chicago, followed by the two Wild Cards, Washington and Tampa Bay. The Redskins would go to Chicago and the Bucs to Arizona, with the Giants and Panthers waiting to see who they'd face in the second round.
While the Falcons might miss the playoffs, they are the NFC's equivalent to the Ravens, as they were coming off a terrible season and were not on anyone's radar for the type of success they've enjoyed. Coupled with the fact that both teams are starting and enjoying surprising success with rookie first round draft picks at QB, the similarities are significant. Both teams defenses are playing great and their passing games are both set up by strong running attacks. However, the Ravens have a bigger core of veterans and a better defense, which should carry them further now and in the future.
Of course, the season is just one game past the halfway point and there is a lot of football to come, which should certainly change the playoff scenerios as it progresses. In the AFC North, the Ravens might be tied with the Steelers, but Pittsburgh currently holds the tie breaker by virtue of their win over the Ravens. However, we get our chance at revenge and should be able to defend our turf when they come to M&T Bank Stadium. That leaves the rest of the schedule to determine who takes the division crown. The Ravens remaining schedule has them hosting the Eagles, Redskins, Steelers and Jaguars, while visiting the Giants, Bengals and Cowboys. I can reasonably see us going 3-1 at home and 1-2 on the road, which would have us finish at 10-6. However, if we can win out at home or steal one on the road, then 11-5 isn't out of the question, and if so, should get us the AFC North crown and a good chance at a first round bye plus at least one home game in the postseason.
The Steelers remaining schedule consists of home games against San Diego, Cincinnati, Dallas and Cleveland and road games at New England, Baltimore and Tennessee. I can reasonably see the Steelers going 0-for on the road while sweeping their remaining home contests, to finish at 10-6. Of course, I can see them losing at home to the Cowboys or perhaps even the Chargers, which would drop them out of contention for the division title and leave them fighting for a Wild Card berth.
The Browns looked like they have begun to doubt themselves and I believe we're going to see a locker room implosion shortly that will probably end with the firing of coach Romeo Crennel by the end of the season if not earlier. Cincinnati will be fighting for the #1 pick in the draft, and will probably tear apart their roster and coaching staff in the off season. If so, I'd take TJ or 85 anyday as a Christmas gift for Joe Flacco!
While the AFC North may not be the toughest division from top to bottom in the NFL, the two top teams present the top two defenses in the league. No one wants to face either of us now, or in the post season, as everyone knows defense wins championships. In addition, the Ravens now have an offense to complement and no longer rely on the defense to win the game. That combination makes the Ravens one of the toughest teams to game plan for. This weekend's contest at the NY Giants will be a great test to see how we can do against a team with a winning record, much less one that many rank as the top team in the entire NFL. As a hardcore Ravens fan, I welcome the challenge and the opportunity to show the Giants and the rest of the league how far we've come and what a force we are going to be to reckon with, this season as well as long into the future.