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It's no secret that a lot of local fans have developed an NFL persecution complex over the past generation or so, and plenty has happened to feed that Baltimore-against-the-football-world mentality.

The conspiracy buffs can point to everything from the expansion snub in the 1990s to the strange enforcement of the "Tom Brady rule" in Week 4 to the string of recent games against teams coming off their bye weeks to support the theory that the NFL hates us and does everything in its power to disadvantage the Ravens.

I've got to admit there have been times - such as the Patriots game this year - when even the most mentally healthy individual in town (and that would be me) had to wonder if there's some truth to this bumper-sticker illogic:

"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean everybody isn't out to get me."

Well, I'm here to put your mind at ease. I've uncovered compelling evidence that the NFL actually is conspiring in favor of the Ravens, who remain in playoff contention at a time when they just as easily could be making plans for their post-New Year's vacations.

While you were agonizing your way through Sunday's loss to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, you hardly noticed that the Ravens got a pair of disputed calls overturned at pivotal moments in the game, and coach John Harbaugh actually was allowed to throw his red replay flag a record four times.

The officials allowed him to pick his second one up when the original call obviously would have been upheld, which allowed him to get a second challenge right and earn a third. The final one didn't go so well, and the Ravens lost the game, but that's where it really starts to get interesting.

Let's take a couple of steps back, however, before I get to that.

There have been several times during the first 11 weeks of the season when the Ravens appeared to be in a "must-win" situation. In fact, I believe the Baltimore Sun Media Group is planning a compilation book of all the columns Kevin Cowherd has written this season putting that designation on various showdowns.

In most of those cases, however, the Ravens have not won, which would lead any reasonable person to conclude that they should be out of contention by now. I mean, what exactly does the term "must-win" mean if you can lose in one or more of those situations and I can pop up today and say that if the Ravens beat the banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, they're right in the playoff hunt?

Which brings us back to Sunday and the circumstances that have conspired to keep the Ravens alive in spite of five losses in their past seven games.

I don't even know if this is mathematically possible, but I'll throw it out there anyway. The Ravens suffered a discouraging loss in an emotional game and, somehow, it appears that their chances of reaching the playoffs actually improved.

The Steelers found a way to lose to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and entered this practice week with Ben Roethlisberger questionable after another in a series of concussions.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who were minutes away from taking a commanding lead in the AFC North, staged a last-minute collapse in Oakland to keep the division title in play. They hold all the tiebreakers and have two very soft home games coming up, so I wouldn't get too excited, but if you can give up 10 points in 18 seconds to the Raiders, anything is possible.

Anyway, we're really talking about the wild-card possibilities, and the conspiracy to keep the Ravens in play didn't stop there.

Going into Sunday, there were four non-division leaders in the AFC (including the Steelers) with the same record or a better record than the Ravens. Three of them lost. Two of them lost games they were supposed to win and the third, the Denver Broncos, appears to be in a state of complete collapse after getting off to a 6-0 start. The only winner was the Jacksonville Jaguars, who face one of the tougher remaining schedules in the conference.

Right now, the Ravens are looking up at only the Steelers, Jaguars and Broncos in the fight for the two AFC wild-card berths, which isn't such a bad view under the circumstances.

The way things went in Week 11, I'm starting to wonder if somebody up there likes them.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at

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