In defeating the Saints 34-27 on Monday night, the Ravens completed a sweep of the NFC South and improved their record to 7-4.
Now, the Ravens embark on a five-game stretch against AFC foes to close the regular season. And in many ways, the Ravens’ playoff fate is now squarely in their hands.
Of the Ravens’ final five games, four are against conference contenders, including Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the Chargers. At the moment, the Chargers are one spot ahead of the Ravens in the AFC seeding, but Baltimore can snag the oh-so-important head-to-head tiebreaker with a victory. Matchups with the Dolphins (December 7), Texans (December 21) and Browns (December 28) offer similar opportunities. The Ravens also draw feeble Jacksonville in Baltimore on December 14, giving them a chance to bolster their AFC record.
After failing to make the postseason in 2013, the Ravens are very much in the mix to be playing in January. And if they knock off San Diego, Miami and Cleveland, they will be tough to keep out, for they will have inflicted real some pain upon their rivals.
THE BIG SIX
1. New England Patriots (9-2, .818). AFC East leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage.
2. Denver Broncos (8-3, .727). AFC West leader. Earn first-round bye.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1, .682). AFC North leader. Host Chargers in wild-card game.
4. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, .636). AFC South leader. Host Chiefs in wild-card game.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 1. Hold No. 5 seed on basis of head-to-head win vs. Chargers (first divisional tiebreaker) and better AFC record than Ravens (5-3 vs. 3-4 — second wild-card tiebreaker).
6. San Diego Chargers (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 2. Hold No. 6 seed on basis of better AFC record than Ravens (5-3 vs. 3-4 — second wild-card tiebreaker).
7. Baltimore Ravens (7-4, .636). AFC North’s second-seeded team because of 2-1 mark in head-to-head games vs. Steelers and Browns (first divisional tiebreaker). This tops the Steelers’ 2-2 mark and the Browns’ 1-2 record.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4, .636). AFC North’s third-seeded team because of superior record in common games to Browns (4-2 vs. 2-3 — third divisional tiebreaker).
9. Cleveland Browns (7-4, .636).
10. Miami Dolphins (6-5, .545). Hold No. 10 seed on basis of superior AFC East record to Bills (2-1 vs. 3-2 — second divisional tiebreaker).
11. Buffalo Bills (6-5, .545).
12. Houston Texans (5-6, .455).