If the NFL regular season ended prior to Sunday afternoon of Week 16, the Baltimore Ravens would have been on the outside of the AFC playoff picture. As of Sunday evening, they’re now the No. 7 seed in the conference and earn the final wild card spot— despite losing to the Bengals by 20 points and falling to 8-7.
Let’s break this down a bit.
In defeating the Ravens, the Bengals are now squarely in the driver’s seat to win the AFC North and host a home playoff game. They sit a full game ahead of the Ravens (not including any tiebreakers scenario, which the Bengals would win) and further separated themselves from the Steelers (7-7-1) and Browns (7-8).
In order for the Ravens to win the division, they would have to win their remaining two games and the Bengals would have to lose out. Possible? Sure. Probable? Not so much. If the Steelers or Browns were to go 2-0 over the next two weeks while the Bengals again lost both of their remaining games, they too could still win the division. Again— not likely. It also does not help the Ravens’ divisional record sits at 1-4.
However, while the Ravens’ chances of winning the AFC North have dwindled significantly, they are still in firm fighting position to earn a Wild Card berth. They received some help in this department on Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs defeating the Steelers 36-10 and the Los Angeles Chargers becoming victims of an upset at the hands of the Houston Texans, 41-29. Had the Steelers won, they would have temporarily moved into the playoff picture. Instead, they remain on the outside of the bubble.
The Chargers were actually in the tentative wild card spot at 8-6 before this weekend. Now, after losing to the Texans, they are 8-7 like the Ravens. Because the Ravens beat them earlier this season, they hold the tiebreaker and thus jumped them in the postseason race.
This is good and dandy but a lot can change — like in the next 24 hours. If the Dolphins beat the Saints on Monday night, they would improve to 8-7. With the Dolphins beating the Ravens in Week 10, they would have the tiebreaker advantage and push the Ravens out of the final playoff slot. If they lose to the Saints, nothing would change.
The other team in this equation are the Las Vegas Raiders who also improved to 8-7 this week after beating the Denver Broncos. The Raiders beat the Ravens in Week 1 but would not make the playoffs over them right now. This is because the Chargers own a division tiebreaker over the Raiders and the Ravens have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers, which is. . . complicated.
The Browns, Steelers and Broncos, who each have seven wins, are still mathematically alive in the postseason race as well. It goes without saying that there are a lot of moving parts in the AFC playoff race and a lot will not be decided until the conclusion of Week 18.
How AFC *wild card* chances shifted over the early window:— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 26, 2021
-Chargers decrease because they lost
-Patriots increase because they lost
-Ravens increase because they lost
-Bills decrease because they won pic.twitter.com/9UfkmiIjo5
The Ravens may not technically control their own destiny, but they stand to have a decent chance of grabbing the No. 7 seed if they can beat the Rams and Steelers over the next two weeks. If they win out and the Raiders and Dolphins each lose at least one more game, the Ravens will be in.
The Raiders travels to Indianapolis next week to face a red-hot Colts team before hosting the Chargers in Week 18. The Dolphins, winners of six straight games, will travel to Tennessee after playing the Saints. In the regular season finale, the Dolphins play host to the Patriots. Next week’s matchup between the Chargers and Broncos also has big implications, too.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Ravens. They’ve now lost four straight games but stand to get some key pieces back in the lineup ahead of hosting the Rams in Week 17, including possibly Lamar Jackson. Putting aside all that has happened between September and now, they are squarely in the playoff hunt with two games remaining.
If there’s one thing we know for sure, John Harbaugh’s team will go down swinging over this final stretch, regardless of who is on the field.