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McPhee, Suggs probable; Campanaro questionable for Chargers game

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McPhee, Suggs probable; Campanaro questionable for Chargers game

Posted on 28 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to the practice field after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Ravens look to be in excellent shape from a health standpoint as they made final preparations for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is the only Baltimore player listed as much as questionable for Week 13.

All players on the 53-man roster were present and working during the portion of practice open to reporters on Friday morning. Campanaro made his return to the practice field this week after a month-long absence due to a hamstring injury, but the Ravens training staff is bringing him along very slowly in fear of a mishap, making it unlikely that he’ll play on Sunday.

“He’s coming along. It’s a process with a hamstring,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t really push that thing so much. What usually happens with a hamstring is they’re pretty conservative and then all of a sudden they come back and tell you he’s ready to go. He did practice this week. It wasn’t all the time as fast as we want it to be, because we don’t want a setback. I imagine I’ll find out Sunday if he’s ready to go or not and if he is, we’ll see. That’s really the best we can do right now.”

Linebackers Terrell Suggs (foot) and Pernell McPhee (shoulder) are listed as probable after both were full participants on Friday. Reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid has also been a full participant all week after missing the last two games due to a broken hand.

With the disadvantage of a short week after playing a Monday night game in New Orleans, the Ravens sporting such a clean injury report is encouraging as they play the 7-4 Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 5-4 margin and have a 2-0 advantage playing in Baltimore.

The Chargers officially ruled out nose tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) and listed linebacker Andrew Gachkar (knee) as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Starting running back Ryan Mathews (shoulder) is probable.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Walt Anderson.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-50s and winds up to eight miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh)
PROBABLE: LB Pernell McPhee (shoulder), OL Jah Reid (hand), LB Terrell Suggs (foot)

SAN DIEGO
OUT: NT Ryan Carrethers (elbow)
DOUBTFUL: LB Andrew Gachkar (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: G Ryan Miller (groin), DT Tenny Palepoi (non-injury)
PROBABLE: S Jahleel Addae (concussion), RB Ryan Mathews (shoulder), WR Eddie Royal (toe)

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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates still garner the headlines, but the defense has been the most consistent unit for the San Diego Chargers en route to a 7-4 start in 2014.

The Chargers rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense this season, making them one of the bigger challenges quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game have faced all season. Led by two-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers are allowing only 221 passing yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks.

“It could arguably be the best safety tandem we’ve played this year,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Weddle and strong safety Marcus Gilchrist. “Those two guys are really good players and like quarterbacks back there. They do a great job.”

It’s quite a change from last season when San Diego qualified for the playoffs despite having the league’s 23rd-ranked defense and finishing 29th against the pass. The offseason acquisition of Brandon Flowers has paid major dividends as the 5-foot-9 veteran has the fourth-highest grade of any cornerback in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Chargers rank 15th against the run in 2014, but Kubiak added that their depth has been a major reason why they’ve allowed only 19.6 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They’ve only collected 18 sacks all season, but veteran Dwight Freeney remains a player to watch despite being relegated to a situational pass-rush role at age 34.

“I think the biggest thing with this team is they’re playing a lot of people,” Kubiak said. “You have Dwight Freeney on your team and he’s playing 25 or 30 snaps a game, it tells you how deep they are. They’re rotating a lot of people [and] a lot of new faces when it’s third down and time to rush the passer. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Another “basketball” tight end to deal with

After doing an admirable job against All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham last Monday, the Ravens will face another challenge at the tight end position with the 34-year-old Gates still creating problems for defenses.

“You’re hoping that he’s going to age out at some point,” said head coach John Harbaugh as he laughed. “We all do at some point, but he hasn’t yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He’s still a downfield threat. He’s a go-to guy for Philip Rivers.”

He’s no longer a candidate to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but Gates has nine touchdown catches — the fourth-highest total of his career — and 491 receiving yards this season.

His 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame presents a challenge as he uses his physicality to outmuscle defensive backs and still has the speed to beat linebackers in coverage.

“He’s kind of a basketball player, kind of like how Graham is,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When I’m on him or whenever we cover him, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our hands on him. The big thing as far as covering guys like him is to just keep our eyes on him. He’ll pop out of the ground and make good plays.”

Koch, Mosley honored to be among Pro Bowl fan vote leaders

The latest Pro Bowl voting update had Sam Koch leading all punters and rookie C.J. Mosley second among inside linebackers.

After seeing teammate Justin Tucker make the Pro Bowl last year, the nine-year veteran Koch has been close before in his career and acknowledged how meaningful a trip to Honolulu would be. He ranks third in the NFL in net punting and seventh on punts inside the 20 this year.

“It would mean a lot,” said Koch, who was also the holder for 2010 Pro Bowl selection Billy Cundiff. “For all the support I’ve had from my family and my kids and all the people here, just going out and almost making it a couple of times, winning the fan vote to one year to becoming an alternate [in 2010], it’s on my bucket list in football.”

Meanwhile, Mosley is sixth in the league in tackles and has graded as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL by PFF.

“It’s an honor and a blessing for people to notice all the hard work I put in and the great coaching I’ve received here,” Mosley said. “At the end of the day, the last thing I want is a Pro Bowl. We all want that Super Bowl and to play in the last game. But when your play is going good, you like to be recognized.”

The fans account for a third of the total voting with players and coaches making up the rest.

Rosburg plays peacemaker

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg found himself in the middle of the sideline altercation between wide receiver Steve Smith and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro Monday night, which might have created a flashback to the coach’s younger days.

The 59-year-old assistant recalled being a bouncer back in 1976 when asked about his role in breaking up the scrum in New Orleans.

“I was saying the right things,” said Rosburg as he smiled. “I was trying to keep the peace as best I could. It came to me. I didn’t go seek it. It landed on my lap. At first, I defended myself and then I tried to help others.”

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Suggs misses Wednesday’s practice with foot injury

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Suggs misses Wednesday’s practice with foot injury

Posted on 26 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With a quick turnaround following their Monday night road win over New Orleans, the Ravens were back on the practice field Wednesday with their sights set on the San Diego Chargers.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs was the only player on the 53-man roster absent from practice, but a foot ailment is not expected to prohibit him from playing on Sunday as Baltimore looks to improve to 8-4 on the season. The veteran spoke to reporters on Wednesday as he typically does, a good indication that the injury isn’t considered serious.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (broken hand) returned to practice after lengthy absences for each. The rookie wideout hadn’t practiced since injuring his hamstring against Cincinnati on Oct. 26. Reid broke his hand a few days prior to the Week 10 win over Tennessee.

Reid was a full participant while Campanaro practiced on a limited basis.

Linebacker Pernell McPhee was a limited participant with what was listed as a shoulder injury.

For San Diego, rush specialist Dwight Freeney received the day off and linebacker Andrew Gachkar (knee) was absent from Wednesday’s practice.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Terrell Suggs (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB Pernell McPhee (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Jah Reid (hand)

SAN DIEGO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: NT Ryan Carrethers (elbow), LB Dwight Freeney (non-injury), LB Andrew Gachkar (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jahleel Addae (concussion), RB Ryan Mathews (shoulder), WR Eddie Royal (toe)

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

Posted on 15 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are a good football team.

But trying to figure out just how good they are in 2014 hasn’t been easy through the first 10 games of the regular season. Their plus-80 point differential ranks fourth in the NFL, but a 3-0 mark and plus-81 margin against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta say more about the woeful NFC South than about 6-4 Baltimore being a dominant team.

All four teams in the AFC North are separated by a half game in what’s shaping up to be the most competitive division in the NFL down the stretch. To put themselves in position to make it back to the postseason after last year’s absence, the Ravens will likely need to manage at least one victory in their final three road games against New Orleans, Miami, and Houston if they’re able to run the table at home against San Diego, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.

Over their final six games, the Ravens will prove whether they’re a contender or a pretender. They’ve done a fine job beating the teams they’re supposed to in 2014 (4-0 against teams currently with losing records), but a 2-4 mark against squads currently above .500 creates doubt.

Below are five things I see happening between now and the end of the season …

1. Marlon Brown will catch three touchdowns after finally emerging as a red-zone threat. This is a bold prediction as the second-year receiver has been a total afterthought this season with just 10 total catches for 93 yards. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to improve the league’s 22nd-ranked red-zone offense as the Ravens are scoring touchdowns on just 54 percent of trips inside the 20. The 6-foot-5 Brown seems like a logical choice to fill some of the void left behind by the injured Dennis Pitta. Many predicted Brown would see fewer opportunities this year after the offseason acquisitions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but there’s no reason not to utilize his height when approaching the end zone.

2. Will Hill and Terrence Brooks will be the starting safeties at the end of the season. Hill has emerged as the only true starter at safety with what’s become a committee approach. Darian Stewart has remained a starter next to Hill in the base defense, but the Ravens are using the rookie Brooks as a single-high safety in obvious passing spots. The third-round choice has been up and down, serving as a healthy inactive in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but he and Hill best fit the profile of the interchangeable safeties the Ravens want. Stewart and disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam will continue to be used in the platoon for now, but Brooks will eventually supplant Stewart, who is rarely around the ball in pass coverage.

3. Steve Smith and Justin Forsett will eclipse the 1,100-yard marks in receiving and rushing, respectively. The 35-year-old Smith has slowed in recent games, but his competitive drive — as well as the benefit of the bye week — will revitalize his production for at least a couple big games down the stretch. Meanwhile, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories in the NFL this season as he’s already set a career high with 721 rushing yards and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. You’d be concerned with most 29-year-old backs wearing down late in the season, but Forsett has plenty of tread left on the tires after years of being underutilized in his other career stops.

4. The Houston game will be tougher than anticipated while the San Diego game will be easier than expected. A month ago, the Chargers looked like one of the NFL’s best teams, but a so-so defense, a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average, and a 1 p.m. East Coast start time will put a lot on Philip Rivers’ shoulders against a Baltimore defense that raises its play at home. The Week 16 meeting with the Texans could turn into a heck of a challenge if new starting quarterback Ryan Mallett finds his bearings and No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney can stay in the lineup to complement J.J. Watt, the best defensive player on the planet. This one could be a must-win game for the Ravens, but Houston might be a much scarier team by then.

5. The Ravens will return to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Without giving away the game-by-game predictions, Baltimore will answer the bell to play at a level high enough to advance to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years under John Harbaugh. Questions remain about the secondary, but the front seven and the offense will play at above-average levels for the Ravens to win four of their last six contests. I have doubts whether this team is talented enough at key spots to make a serious run against the likes of New England, Denver, and Indianapolis, but as we’ve learned again and again in the modern NFL, the postseason is all about who gets hot at the right time. The Ravens will get the chance to roll the dice.

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Former Ravens fullback McClain arrested on synthetic marijuana charge

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Former Ravens fullback McClain arrested on synthetic marijuana charge

Posted on 06 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain was arrested on a felony charge of trafficking synthetic marijuana in Alabama on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old was arrested in his hometown of Tuscaloosa after being found with 122 grams of synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice.” McClain hasn’t played in the NFL this season after being cut by the San Diego Chargers in March, and he last played for the Ravens during the 2010 season.

McClain is being held on $500,000 bond and could reportedly face a minimum three-year prison sentence and $50,000 fine if convicted of the charge under Alabama state law.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Alabama, McClain made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2009. His best season came in 2008 when he received extensive time at tailback, rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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Ravens sign former Chargers defensive end Guy

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Ravens sign former Chargers defensive end Guy

Posted on 24 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continued tinkering with their 53-man roster Wednesday by claiming former San Diego Chargers defensive end Lawrence Guy off waivers to boost depth along a banged-up defensive line.

Having already lost young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to season-ending injuries during training camp, the Ravens were without veteran starter Chris Canty during Wednesday’s practice before signing Guy, who was let go by San Diego on Tuesday. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is also currently out with a meniscus injury to his knee.

Baltimore cut wide receiver Deonte Thompson for the second time in less than a week to make room for Guy on the 53-man roster.

The 24-year-old was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 2011 draft and eventually caught on with Indianapolis in 2012 after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. In 24 career games with the Colts and Chargers, Guy has collected 38 tackles, one sack, and four pass breakups.

Guy had appeared in each of the Chargers’ first three games, playing 47 snaps but failing to record any tackles.

The Ravens also announced they re-signed running back Fitz Toussaint to their practice squad a day after waiving him to make room on the 53-man roster for the returning Thompson.

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Orioles acquire veteran catcher Hundley in exchange for Patton

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Orioles acquire veteran catcher Hundley in exchange for Patton

Posted on 24 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Moments before the start of their Saturday afternoon game against the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles announced the acquisition of veteran catcher Nick Hundley from the San Diego Padres in exchange for left-handed pitcher Troy Patton.

The deal also includes cash considerations and provides the Orioles with an established veteran option to complement current starter Steve Clevenger with Matt Wieters on the 15-day disabled list. Rookie Caleb Joseph remained on the roster for Saturday’s game but is expected to be sent down to make room for the 30-year-old Hundley.

Hundley was hitting .271 with a homer and three runs batted in in 59 at-bats for the Padres this season and is a career .238 hitter in seven seasons with San Diego. The right-handed hitter is considered a solid defensive option, so it will be interesting to see how the playing time is divided between Hundley and the more offensive-minded Clevenger.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been searching for a veteran catching option since Wieters was sent to the DL earlier this month with right elbow soreness. The All-Star backstop continues to receive treatment and rest his elbow in hopes of avoiding Tommy John surgery, but his uncertain status made Hundley’s acquisition a necessity for at least the short-term future.

The 28-year-old Patton had struggled this season after serving a 25-game suspension for amphetamines use to start the year and had posted an 8.10 earned run average in nine appearances spanning 6 2/3 innings. Originally acquired from the Houston Astros in the Miguel Tejada in late 2007, Patton was 5-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 140 career appearances over five seasons with the Orioles.

With Hundley still in transit to Baltimore on Saturday afternoon, the Orioles recalled infielder Steve Lombardozzi to take Patton’s place on the 25-man roster for Saturday’s game, giving manager Buck Showalter additional infield depth with Manny Machado still sidelined with a groin injury.

The Orioles are expected to recall right-handed relief pitcher Preston Guilmet on Sunday to take Chris Davis’ spot as the first baseman will be going on short-term paternity leave as his wife is expecting the couple’s first child.

 

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Blast, other MISL teams to unify indoor soccer in PASL

Posted on 14 April 2014 by WNST Staff

The Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL) Management, in conjunction with management from the Baltimore Blast, San Diego Sockers, and Missouri Comets have created a new partnership for all of the current PASL teams, and former MISL teams, that will unify professional arena/indoor soccer. The announcement was made in a special halftime ceremony at today’s NWSL FC Kansas City home opener.

The league and teams will be working hard the next couple weeks to get all of the lease agreements and final paperwork done for every team that will be part of the new partnership.  ”Getting this done in a timely manner was extremely important for all of the teams that will be taking part,” said PASL Commissioner Kevin Milliken.  ”We all received a lot of feedback from team owners that played in both leagues, but needed to have a small group with specific skills and experience to do the final negotiating for everyone, so we could get this done quickly.

“This is such a wonderful moment for the PASL, of course, but for arena soccer as a sport,” Milliken continued. ”To get from the level of acrimony that existed between various leagues when we started the Premier Arena Soccer League (the PASL’s amateur developmental league) in 1998 to the camaraderie that exists between owners now is something that people said could not be done.

“We would like to thank Blast owner Ed Hale, Comets owner Brad Likens, and Sockers owner Phil Salvagio  for taking leadership and having the vision to make this happen,” said Milliken. “The combined history and experience of these owners is going to really accelerate our growth and their contributions will be invaluable.”
The league will have around 20 teams in the US and Mexico and will be considered the top level of arena soccer in North America.  The timing of the agreement is significant because the PASL will be hosting the first ever WMF World Cup of Arena Soccer in February/March 2015.
“For the first time the US National Arena Soccer Team will have access to all of the best talent in the country and we will have a bigger pool of potential host cities to showcase our six-a-side boarded arena soccer to the rest of the world,” states US National Arena Soccer Team head coach Phil Salvagio. .
Heading into its seventh season, the PASL has enjoyed a period of tremendous growth.  From eight teams in 2008-09, the league swelled to 20 teams this season, while attendance has increased 105% since 2011-12.  Average attendance is projected to jump another 50% or more in the upcoming season with the addition of the new teams.
While the new partnership has positioned itself as the future of arena soccer it now also has a rich pedigree in the sport’s history.  The league’s Dallas Sidekicks will be celebrating 30 years since their founding and the San Diego Sockers history can be traced back to the 1970s.

The Baltimore Blast franchise was founded in 1992, but Baltimore has had continuous arena soccer since 1980, winning seven championships.

The Missouri Comets, based in Independence, won the most recent MISL championship in March. The Comets name dates back to 1981 and the Kansas City area has enjoyed almost 30 seasons of arena soccer.

The leagues owners meeting is May 17th and 18th in Baltimore, and will be having a formal press conference on Monday May 19th, time and location TBD. The majority of the teams, division layout, and any other changes will be announced then.
About Professional Arena Soccer League and Premier Arena Soccer League

The PASL is a professional league which began play on October 25, 2008.  The league, which concluded its sixth season with the Chicago Mustangs claiming the Newman Cup on March 16, is the largest and longest-running arena soccer organization in the US. The Tulsa Revolution, Ontario Fury, Wichita B-52s, Monterrey Flash, Saltillo Rancho Seco, Cleveland Freeze, and Bay Area Rosal were added for the 2013/14 season. The PASL-Premier just concluded its 16th season as the nation’s top amateur arena soccer league and is the official developmental league of the PASL. Both the PASL and PASL-Premier are members of Confederacion Panamerica de Minifutbol (CPM).

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Ravens enter Monday night controlling own path to AFC North title

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Ravens enter Monday night controlling own path to AFC North title

Posted on 16 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Sunday’s NFL action brought good and bad news to the Ravens as they traveled to Detroit for a critical nationally-televised meeting with the Lions.

With Cincinnati falling hard to Pittsburgh in a 30-20 final at Heinz Field Sunday night, the Ravens now control their own path to a third consecutive AFC North title if they are able to win their final three games to conclude the regular season. Should Baltimore beat Detroit and New England next Sunday, a Week 17 meeting with the Bengals would decide the division as the Ravens would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati with a victory in the season finale.

However, the bad news for the 7-6 Ravens Sunday was the Miami Dolphins earning an impressive win over New England to temporarily land in the No. 6 spot in the AFC with an 8-6 record. Baltimore owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami with a Week 5 win earlier in the season, but the Dolphins finish the season with a road game against Buffalo in Week 16 and a home game against the Jets in Week 17, leaving the Ravens with an even smaller margin for error than anticipated a couple weeks ago.

With Miami and 7-7 San Diego both scoring big wins in Week 15, the Ravens were reminded that there will be no such thing as backing into the playoffs like they did a year ago in losing four of their last five to finish 10-6 before making their remarkable run to Super Bowl XLVII. It’s becoming apparent that the AFC postseason is void of any juggernauts — like Seattle is shaping up to be in the NFC — and is setting up nicely for any one team to get hot at the perfect time, but the Ravens’ biggest obstacle is now to simply qualify for the tournament.

Perhaps the biggest message to take away from Sunday’s action is that the Ravens need to continue to win and build on the momentum created by a three-game winning streak to finish out their recent homestand. Otherwise, they’ll be depending on help from other teams to advance to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season, and that’s never a good feeling to be playing difficult games at the end of the season while needing to keep an eye on the scoreboard.

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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the AFC wild-card race

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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the AFC wild-card race

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Luke Jones

For the Ravens and a number of other AFC teams who’ve plodded along with a .500 record or slightly worse through the first three quarters of the 2013 season, the final sprint is here in determining who will grab the coveted second wild-card spot as Kansas City is all but guaranteed the No. 5 seed.

Of course, coach John Harbaugh and his team still hold hope that their Week 17 meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals will provide an opportunity to play for the AFC North title, but the Ravens will need their division counterpart to slip up to reduce the deficit to just one game entering that final contest at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 29. In the meantime, the Ravens simply must focus on winning games and securing their current grip on the No. 6 seed in the AFC as their 6-6 record equals the Dolphins — and an Oct. 6 victory over Miami gives them the tie-breaking nod.

Following this Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings that concludes the current three-game homestand, the Ravens have the most difficult path of any of the wild-card contenders over the final three weeks in playing three teams projected to land in the postseason. Baltimore figures to need to win three of its final four games in the final month for a good chance to maintain its grip on the No. 6 seed, meaning the Ravens will likely need to win two of three against Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati and only the Patriots game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 16.

The Ravens’ 6-4 conference record stacks up well with the rest of the field, but the outcome of their two remaining AFC games will loom large should they find themselves in a number of tie-breaking situations.

Here’s a look at the rest of the field as I determine who the contenders and the pretenders are:

MIAMI (6-6) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 5-3
Remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh, New England, at Buffalo, New York Jets
Skinny: It would have been unsurprising to see the Dolphins fold in November with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation hanging over their heads, but Miami has rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay to win two of its last three. The Dolphins are in the best position to challenge the Ravens mathematically, but their next two games will make or break them as they go to Heinz Field before playing the Patriots at home. Just one win over the Steelers or New England would put incredible heat on the Ravens over the final two weeks against difficult opponents. Of course, the Dolphins’ Week 5 loss to Baltimore continues to doom them if those two teams finish tied for the No. 6 spot with no one else in the mix.

TENNESSEE (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: at Denver, Arizona, at Jacksonville, Houston
Skinny: Their current record and remaining schedule still suggest the Titans have a slim chance, but the season-ending injury to quarterback Jake Locker last month and two losses to a vulnerable Indianapolis team in their last three games have all but sealed their fate. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick had been playing well before an awful performance this past Sunday, but the next two games figure to be the final nails in the coffin to the Titans’ playoff hopes. Tennessee started fast this season, but only two wins since the start of October clearly scream pretender in an already-mediocre field.

PITTSBURGH (5-7) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: Miami, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Cleveland
Skinny: Many eulogized the Steelers’ season following the Thanksgiving night result, but Pittsburgh could still be the biggest threat in the wild-card race with three remaining home games. A normally-intimidating trip to Lambeau Field in Week 16 to take on the Packers could also be easier should Aaron Rodgers be shut down for the rest of the season as some are speculating. A Steelers win over the Bengals in Week 15 would help the Ravens in their quest for the division title, but Baltimore’s season split with Pittsburgh creates a more complicated tiebreaker that could come down to division record or even record in common games. Perhaps more than anything else, Ravens fans begrudgingly know it’s never a good idea to count out Ben Roethlisberger, meaning the Steelers still have a shot.

SAN DIEGO (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 3-6
Remaining schedule: New York Giants, at Denver, Oakland, Kansas City
Skinny: The Chargers’ home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday not only failed to do the Ravens any favors in the AFC North race but landed Mike McCoy’s team in the pretender category. San Diego has arguably looked better than any of the other wild-card contenders — the Ravens included — when playing at its best, but inconsistency has once again plagued the Chargers as it seems to annually. They have three remaining home games, but the Chargers have already lost three games at Qualcomm Stadium and are just as likely to lay an egg against the Giants or the Raiders than to pull off an upset over the Broncos or the Chiefs. Their abysmal conference record won’t do them any favors in a tie-breaking scenario, so San Diego’s only real hope is to run the table.

NEW YORK (5-7) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 2-7
Remaining schedule: Oakland, at Carolina, Cleveland, at Miami
Skinny: Only two weeks ago we were talking about the Jets holding the No. 6 spot in the conference, but they’ve crashed and burned since then with a road loss to the Ravens and an embarrassing home defeat to Miami by 20 points this past Sunday. Their quarterback situation is the worst of any of the teams still vying for a wild-card spot as Geno Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween. The Jets’ remaining schedule isn’t awful, but they appear far more likely to lose their four remaining games than to go on a run necessary to land the No. 6 seed. New York was still better than many expected this year, but a dysfunctional offense has finally sunk the Jets after some impressive wins earlier in the season.

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