As the Ravens enjoyed their first weekend off since the bye week -- a prize for defeating two quality opponents in five days -- the rest of the AFC contenders held serve by winning their games on Sunday.
The New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers won to improve to 8-3 and force a four-way tie atop the conference with the Ravens. Technically, the Ravens are the No. 3 seed right now behind the Texans and Patriots because conference record is the tie-breaker. The Texans are 7-2 in the AFC and the Patriots are 6-2. The Ravens are 5-2 (plus they own a head-to-head win over the Texans).
The AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders (7-4) and the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4), who are in the final wild card spot, each picked up wins on Sunday, too, as the cream of the AFC continued to rise to the top.
Three AFC teams are at 6-5 after Sunday. Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Rex Ryan and the New York Jets kept hope alive with a win over the Buffalo Bills, who have now lost four straight games.
Really, the only significant losses suffered by AFC contenders were on the injury front. The Texans, who were already playing without starting quarterback Matt Schaub, likely lost backup QB Matt Leinart for the season, too. And Steelers safety Troy Polamalu reportedly suffered a concussion on Sunday night.
The Ravens are in excellent position to secure at least a first-round bye for the posteason. Baltimore’s final five opponents have a combined record of 15-29 and only one (Cincinnati) has a winning record.