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Can the Ravens make the playoffs?

Staring down another disappointing finish, Baltimore needs to flip a switch to save their season.

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

It wasn’t too long ago when the Ravens, tied with the Bengals atop the AFC North, were riding high after a near-dominant victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4. Baltimore was 3-1 with a favorable matchup against the Browns awaiting.

Obviously, that matchup proved to be less favorable than expected, as the Ravens offense stalled and they fell in a road upset to Cleveland. However, they bounced back nicely and improved to 4-2 with a shutout, eleven-sack performance against the Titans.

Fielding a dominant defense and an improved offensive attack, the Ravens appeared primed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Many pundits and analysts even went as far as to proclaim Baltimore as a potential dark horse Super Bowl contender.

Flash forward to today, however, and the circumstances have changed dramatically. The Ravens, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, enter their bye week with much uncertainty surrounding both the present and future of the organization.

Baltimore has looked like a different team than the one we saw earlier in the season. Although the past three matchups have come against playoff teams, the Ravens have largely been exposed on both sides of the ball.

Since falling to the Saints in heartbreaking fashion a few weeks ago, the Ravens have been thoroughly defeated in back-to-back tilts against the Panthers and Steelers. They were outscored 59-37 combined, and that deficit fails to tell the whole story.

Now, the Ravens (4-5) are under .500 for the first time all season and face a steep climb to earn a postseason birth. Baltimore will need to flip a switch after their Week 10 bye and play inspired, aggressive football to turn things around.

Many have written them off already, but John Harbaugh doesn’t appear ready to wave the white flag. Following the Ravens loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, he expressed an optimistic outlook on the remainder of the season.

“There’s seven games left in this season, there’s a lot of football left to be played,” said Harbaugh. “We’ll determine our own fate.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who has cooled off significantly after a career-best start to the season, echoed a similar tone following the loss, expressing the need to take it one game at a time:

And so the question begs; is the nail already in the coffin on the Ravens season? They’ve certainly dug themselves into a hole over the past few weeks and significantly lowered their chances of making the playoffs.

If the playoffs started today, here’s how the AFC picture would look:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
  2. New England Patriots (7-2)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)
  4. Houston Texans (6-3)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (6-2)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

Unless the Steelers suddenly falter dramatically, the Ravens only chance at earning a postseason birth is via the wildcard. Given the Chargers dominant play recently, Baltimore will probably need to overtake the Bengals for the 6th seed in the AFC.

Thus, the Ravens home matchup against Cincinnati in Week 11 is undoubtedly a must-win. A victory would pull them within one game of the Bengals, closing the gap in both the playoff and division race. A loss, however, would all but crush Baltimore’s playoff hopes.

If they can manage to defeat Cincinnati, there are still several difficult matchups remaining on the schedule. Specifically back-to-back road games against the Falcons and Chiefs, and another tough road matchup against the Chargers in Week 16.

Baltimore must win at least one of these contests, but in all likelihood, finding a way to steal two of these three games will be a necessity. This is assuming the Ravens avoid a hiccup against the other teams on the schedule; Oakland, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay.

Given the current AFC playoff scope, Baltimore likely needs at least nine wins on the season to have a shot at a wildcard berth. However, a 10-6 record would significantly improve their chances at postseason play.

Therefore, at the very least they’ll need to go 5-2 or 6-1 over the course of the remaining seven games. It certainly is an uphill battle, and the Ravens should rightly be considered a longshot to be a playoff team come December.

However, it’s certainly possible, and we’ve seen no shortage of miracle acts from this franchise over the years. Maybe we shouldn't count out these Baltimore Ravens just yet.