The Ravens handled their business with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay to maintain control of the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race on Sunday.
The problem was no other results falling favorably in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014, making Saturday’s trip to Los Angeles to take on the red-hot Chargers close to a must-win affair. You can thank losing efforts by New England, Dallas, and the New York Giants for Baltimore’s margin for error all but evaporating in Week 15.
Players in the post-game locker room were split on whether they’d watch Pittsburgh’s late-afternoon clash with the Patriots as a Steelers loss would have given the Ravens the lead in the AFC North. However, Mike Tomlin’s team snapped its three-game losing streak to remain in first place and broke a five-game slide against New England with a 17-10 win. With the Steelers traveling to New Orleans in Week 16 and hosting last-place Cincinnati in the season finale, the Ravens need to win their final two games at the Chargers and at home against Cleveland to have any realistic hope of winning their first division title since 2012.
While many were focused on the happenings at Heinz Field, Indianapolis and Tennessee both registered wins to improve to 8-6, decreasing Baltimore’s chances of securing a wild-card spot with a 9-7 record. With the Colts hosting the 5-9 Giants and the Titans hosting a 7-7 Washington team down to its third-string quarterback next weekend before meeting each other in Week 17, one of those AFC South teams appears likely to finish 10-6.
What does that mean?
The Ravens could desperately use their first victory over a team with a winning record since Week 6 when they take on Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Barring an unlikely sequence of events, there will be no backing into the playoffs for John Harbaugh’s team, which is probably fair since Baltimore currently owns the worst strength of victory (.415) among the remaining AFC playoff contenders. If the Ravens can’t beat a playoff-caliber team in December, do they really deserve to play into January?
The good news is the Ravens are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record as either the division winner or the second wild card.
“I think the thing that plays in our favor is all we have to do is win and we should be in,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who shined in Sunday’s win with an interception and four pass breakups. “It definitely feels good, and I feel like the team, we all were on board to get this one. Next, we have the Chargers.”
Below are the Ravens’ playoff scenarios entering Week 16:
* Baltimore is eliminated from the AFC North race with a loss to the Chargers and a Pittsburgh win.
* Baltimore is eliminated from AFC wild-card contention with a loss and wins by Indianapolis and Tennessee.
* Baltimore is eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Chargers and wins by Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.
* Baltimore cannot clinch a playoff berth in Week 16.