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Handicapping Ravens' chances in AFC playoff race

The Ravens didn't get the help they hoped for Monday night from Washington in the Steelers-Redskins game. Pittsburgh's 23-6 win puts the Steelers at 6-2 at the halfway point with Baltimore trailing in the AFC North by a game at 5-3

The Ravens still have an opportunity to control their divisional fortunes in a rematch with the Steelers Dec. 14 at M&T Bank Stadium but at the moment, the Ravens' playoff chances skew more toward a wildcard.

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At this stage, tie-breakers are difficult to sort through other than to look at divisional and conference records and on that score, the Ravens are in good shape. They are 3-1 in the AFC North and 5-3 in the conference.

The one wildcard tie-breaker situation that could be a problem for the Ravens would be a head-to-head match with Indianapolis since Baltimore lost that 31-3 blowout to the Colts nearly a month ago.

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As most Ravens fans are aware, the second half of the schedule is loaded with four games with the NFC East, generally recognized as the NFL's toughest division so there are a lot of challenges ahead. That makes it all the more imperative to win this upcoming game in Houston where the Ravens are an early 1 ½-point underdog.

So while it's still a little early to be talking about (cue Jim Mora, please) playoffs, if this were a horse race, you'd have to like the Ravens' position in the pack as the field heads along the backstretch.

The AFC East. Buffalo, Miami and the Jets are all 5-3 and Miami is 4-4. Theoretically, the division could produce three playoff teams and ace out the Ravens but that's unlikely because of the competitiveness of the AFC East. The four teams are so evenly matched, they'll likely beat up on each other and put dents in each other's records.

The weird thing is that the Dolphins, although a game behind the other three teams, may have the best chance of making the playoffs. Five of their last eight games are against Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco, Oakland and Kansas City -- that's a combined 9-31. The other three games are within the division where Miami is already 2-1.

Buffalo may have the toughest time hanging in there. Although the Bills are 5-3, they are 0-2 in the division and have out-of-division games against Cleveland and Denver. The Jets, with a 2-1 division record, have the nominal lead the AFC East, but have out-of-division games with Tennessee and Denver. New England has Pittsburgh and Arizona as out-of-division games.

Indianapolis. It's hard to believe but the Colts are already left with the prospect of either making the playoffs as a wildcard or fugetaboutit. Indianapolis is 4-4 and already four games behind the undefeated Titans, 8-0. Plus, the Colts have a difficult out-of-division schedule with Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cleveland plus AFC South games against Jacksonville and Tennessee.

The field. Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston, San Diego/Denver. All of these teams are longshots to make the playoffs with the exception of either the Chargers or Broncos because one of those two teams will win the AFC West. The Browns, Jaguars, Texans and Chargers are all 3-5 and most have tie-breaker problems.

Wildcard standings (just based on conference records)

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Ravens 5-3 (5-3)

Buffalo 5-3 (3-2)

New England 5-3 (3-3)

Miami 4-4 ( 3-2)

Indianapolis 4-4 (4-3)

The New York Jets lead the AFC East at 5-3 (4-3 conference) and Denver leads the AFC West at 4-4 (2-4).


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