It all comes down to one weekend of football.
Just as it should be, I guess.
With Saturday’s 20-14 nailbiter over Cleveland safely in the books, the Ravens can now set their sites on a New Year’s Day trip to Cincinnati, where the pesky Bengals await with their playoff fate in their own hands.
At stake for Baltimore — one of three outcomes. A Ravens win and New England loss at home to Buffalo next Sunday gives Baltimore the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. If both the Ravens and New England win, Baltimore gets the #2 seed and a first-round bye in the post-season. If Baltimore loses and the Steelers win, the Ravens claim the #5 seed and open the post-season on the road against the AFC West champion.
And the Bengals will enter the game in nearly-must-win territory, although there is a way Cincinnati could lose next Sunday and still qualify.
One thing for certain: The Ravens need to play MUCH better than they did in the second half of Saturday’s win over Cleveland or the playoff trip will be short-lived for Baltimore.
Playing without Anquan Boldin, the Baltimore offense was sluggish, producing just two touchdowns on the day and relying heavily on coaching blunders from Pat Shurmer, horrible use of time-outs by Cleveland, and a dumb Browns offsides penalty in the final two minutes that sealed the deal for the Ravens.
The Browns weren’t wearing Santa Claus outfits, but they might as well have been dressed in all red with a white beard and black boots. They delivered plenty of gifts to the Ravens on Saturday.
But it’s a win. And that’s all that matters now, as Baltimore went 8-0 at home to move within a game of securing the team’s first playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium since January 13, 2007.
The Bengals will have plenty to play for, but so will Baltimore next Sunday.
It all comes down to one game.
The Ravens could be the 1 seed, the 2 seed or the 5 seed.
You can’t ask for much more in terms of dramatics.
Which Ravens team will show up? The one that raced out to a 17-0 first half lead on Saturday vs. the Browns? Or the one that struggled to hang on down the stretch against journeyman Seneca Wallace?
That question and the looming answer will play a huge role in the playoff picture, as the Ravens desperately try and extend their season with a win over the Bengals and the security of knowing they’d play at least one home post-season game by going into Cincinnati and earning a “w” next Sunday.