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The Ravens' Road Ahead: Who To Root For?

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BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 24:  Fans of the Baltimore Ravens cheer against the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24. 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 24: Fans of the Baltimore Ravens cheer against the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24. 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
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After last night's 16-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens stand on top of the AFC as the current #1 playoff seed with five regular season games remaining. All of the other playoff contenders in the conference have yet to play their week 12 games and that could change the standings - for now. 

The Ravens have two home games (Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns) and three road games (Browns, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals). Only the Bengals have a winning record and as of today, their opponents combined records are a paltry 18-32. Although the Ravens have had a tough time winning on the road against lesser opponents, there is no reason they shouldn't win at least four of the five games remaining on their schedule, with only their final regular season re-match with the Bengals looking like a tough win.

However, at the top of their respective divisions and poised to jump ahead of the Ravens with a win Sunday or a Ravens mis-step, are both the New England Patriots and Houston Texans

The Houston Texans (7-3) might have problems not only staying with the Ravens and Patriots in the race for the top seed in the playoffs, but perhaps even staying ahead of the Tennessee Titans (5-5) in the AFC South. With the loss of QB Matt Schaub, the pressure to guide the Texans to the post season falls on backup Matt Leinart. Even if Leinart surprises and plays well, it will be tough for Houston to win the top seed in the AFC, especially with tough games hosting the Atlanta Falcons and going to the Bengals, much less what could decide the division when they host the Titans in the regular season finale. 

Therefore, for discussion purposes, let's take the Houston Texans out of the equation for the AFC's top playoff seed and focus on the New England Patriots as the Ravens biggest obstacle to the home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While the Ravens combined winning percentage of their five remaining opponents is .360, the Patriots six opponents have an even worse winning percentage of .328. 

While only the Bengals own a winning record right now on the Ravens schedule, the Patriots do not have a single team ahead of them with a +.500 record. Their remaining six games are as follows: Home (Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills) Away: (Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos). It wouldn't be inconceivable for New England to go 6-0 the rest of the season, which would give them the top playoff seed and home field advantage over the Ravens.

The key tie-breaker which will come into play appears to be the conference record and while the Ravens sit at 5-2, the Patriots are 6-2. Baltimore have all five of their remaining game against conference opponents While New England only has four. It seems like the best bet for the Patriots to lose will be either this Sunday at the NFC's Eagles or at Denver in week 15. New England finishes against two AFC East opponents (Dolphin, Bills) but both games are at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

As the season winds down and we look at the road ahead, not only are all Ravens fans going to root for Baltimore to win, they now must become fans of whomever the Patriots are playing as well.