During the first few weeks of the NFL season, it seemed apparent that the AFC North would be hard-pressed to send more than one team into the playoffs this year. The seeming parity in the division pointed to a second-place team finishing around .500, and the sudden emergence of the Kansas City Chiefs as a very strong playoff contender in the West left room to speculate that there really is only one wild card berth in play in the conference.
That is all still the case, but the landscape in the AFC has changed pretty dramatically over the course of the first half of the season. The Houston Texans, who were supposed to be a slam-dunk playoff team, have run aground, leaving both the AFC South and the AFC East in pretty much the same situation as the North.
The West is the only AFC division in which the second-place team has a winning record, so the likelihood has improved that the Ravens could reach the playoffs without overtaking the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half.
Ideally, they would leave nothing to chance and sweep through their remaining division games to get back into the race for the AFC North title, but if they don’t, there definitely is another path to the playoffs.
Right now, the two wild card teams would be the Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, but the 4-3 Chargers are just one game better than the Ravens and have all four of their games remaining against the Chiefs and the Broncos. There are several teams with 4-4 and 3-4 records, all with about the same chance as the Ravens, but the likelihood of John Harbaugh leading his team into the postseason for the sixth straight year actually has improved in spite of the on-going struggle to establish a balanced offensive attack.
But the Ravens have to beat the Browns this week and have to get their act together in the second half to keep hope alive.