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Full Play-off Scenarios for the Ravens, can they afford a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers?

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens trip to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day has long been labeled as essential for the Ravens if they hope to make the playoffs. With the Ravens set to face the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL, and the Steelers facing one of the easier paths, the Ravens task seems challenging. But thanks to tie breakers that the Ravens hold, yes, the Ravens can afford a loss to the Steelers (plus a loss to the Patriots), and still make the playoffs. Here’s how it could happen, and it really isn’t too crazy.

To start off, if the Ravens wind up with the same record as the Steelers, no matter what the record, 8-8, 9-7 or 10-6, the Ravens will win the division. The Ravens would be tied with the Steelers head-to-head (assuming the Ravens lose to the Steelers in Week 16), but the Ravens would hold the tiebreaker in terms of record against divisional opponents. However, if both teams finish 10-6, the Ravens would win the division based on record versus common opponents and not divisional record.

Using the ESPN Playoff Machine, I tried to find scenarios where the Steelers win the AFC North, but the Ravens still make the playoffs.

The easiest route: Pittsburgh is the only loss for the remainder of the season.

This would put the Ravens at 10-6 on the year, and in the playoffs, but short of a division title. Pittsburgh’s remaining schedule in order is: @Bills, @Bengals, vs Ravens and vs Browns. Assuming Pittsburgh wins out, which, with that schedule is very possible, they will sit at 11-5, one game better than the Ravens.

The Ravens however could still get in as the six seed if the team’s only loss is to Pittsburgh, but it would require some help. The Ravens’ main competition for the sixth seed in this scenario would be the Bills and Broncos. The Broncos remaining schedule is @Titans, vs Patriots, @Chiefs and vs Raiders. The Broncos with their bland offense could fall in each of its final three contests, putting them at 9-7, a game behind the Ravens. Even if the Broncos upset the Raiders in Week 17, the Ravens still get in over Denver based on win percentage in AFC games.

In terms of Buffalo, their remaining schedule is vs Steelers, vs Browns, vs Dolphins and @Jets. For the sake of this scenario where Pittsburgh wins out, Buffalo will go 3-1 for the remainder of the season. That puts them at 9-7 and a game behind the Ravens. Even if the Bills go 4-0 to close the year, the Ravens win the tie breaker based on the Ravens Week 1 victory over the Bills.

In this scenario (Ravens close 3-1, Steelers close 4-0, Broncos closes 1-3 or 2-2, Bills close 3-1), the AFC playoff picture would look like this:

  1. Patriots (13-3)
  2. Chiefs (13-3, I have the Chiefs beating the Raiders in Kansas City on Thursday Night Football in Week 14)
  3. Steelers (11-5)
  4. Colts (8-8)
  5. Raiders (13-3)
  6. Ravens (10-6)

Harder route: the Ravens lose to the Steelers and Patriots, and the Steelers win out

The Steelers beating Buffalo essentially knocks the Bills out of the playoff hunt, because of the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ravens. The team of more concern here is Denver.

If Denver closes 1-3 down the stretch, then the Ravens are fine. It doesn’t matter which of the four remaining games they win, but as long as they finish 1-3, Baltimore would be in over Denver no matter what.

If Denver goes 2-2 in that stretch however, the Ravens would be out as the Ravens would sit at 9-7 while Denver would be at 10-6. Assuming Denver finishes the year with a 9-7 record, the AFC would thus look like this:

  1. Patriots (14-2)
  2. Chiefs (13-3)
  3. Steelers (11-5)
  4. Colts (8-8)
  5. Raiders (13-3)
  6. Ravens (9-7)

Hardest route: Ravens lose to Pittsburgh and New England, but the Steelers slip up against the Bills.

Despite the Steelers not winning out, this is the hardest route because it requires the most help from other teams.

Again let’s assume the Patriots beat the Ravens in Week 14, and the Bills beat the Steelers in Week 14, then the Ravens will find themselves on the outside looking in, as the Bills would sit at 10-6 and the Ravens at 9-7.

However, if just one more change is made, the Ravens can still get into the playoffs. That change is a simple one. Either the Bills lose to the Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 17, or, more likely, the Dolphins beat the Bills in Week 17 in Buffalo. In either of these cases, then Baltimore and Buffalo will both be at 9-7, and the Ravens get in on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Here, the AFC would look like this:

  1. Patriots (14-2)
  2. Chiefs (13-3)
  3. Steelers (10-6)
  4. Colts (8-8)
  5. Raiders (13-3)
  6. Ravens (9-7)

Ravens fans should be rooting against both Buffalo and Denver for the remainder of the season in addition to Pittsburgh, as those are the Ravens top competition for the last wild card spot.

The Ravens control their own destiny, and obviously winning out is the least nerve racking scenario. That however is not an easy task, and seems extremely unlikely. If the Ravens lose to the Steelers, or the Steelers and the Patriots, they are going to need help to get in. But the Ravens Week 16 showdown with the Steelers is not the elimination game that many have made it out to be.