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The five games in Week 14 that mattered to Ravens: AFC playoff picture coming into focus

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson talks about beating the Buffalo Bills and clinching a playoff berth.

The Ravens locked up a postseason berth with their hard-fought 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at New Era Field, but the real prize came later in the day.

When the Kansas City Chiefs scored a heart-stopping 23-16 victory over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, it significantly smoothed the Ravens’ path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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The Ravens will have to wait at least until Thursday night to celebrate their second straight AFC North championship, but that should be pretty much a formality with the New York Jets coming to town as a two-touchdown underdog.

The rematch of last year’s AFC title game gave the Chiefs a measure of revenge when cornerback Bashaud Breeland batted Brady’s fourth-down pass away from Julian Edelman in the end zone with barely a minute left in the game.

It gave the Ravens what is effectively a two-game cushion at the top of the AFC playoff seedings, since they are a game ahead of the Patriots and hold the tiebreaker based on their head-to-head victory over New England in Week 9.

The Ravens can clinch a first-round bye this week with a win and a loss by Kansas City (vs. Denver) or a win and a loss by New England (at Cincinnati). The Ravens would clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and losses by both the Chiefs and Patriots.

The Patriots broke out first Sunday, scoring a touchdown on their first possession of the game, but the Chiefs outscored them 17-0 in the second quarter — the most lopsided second quarter in the history of the Patriots at Gillette.

New England fell behind by 16 before taking advantage of a blocked punt to score a quick touchdown in the third quarter and crept closer with a field goal in the fourth before staging the nine-play, 63-yard drive that fell short.

Here’s the deal: The Ravens would have to lose two of their last three games to put the No. 1 seed in danger. If that happened, they could be passed by the Patriots or end up on the wrong side of the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs, but there are 31 teams in the NFL who would gladly trade places with them right now.

Steelers 23, Cardinals 17: The Steelers obviously weren’t ready to concede the division title to the Ravens. They went to Arizona and scored an important victory over the Cardinals to remain three games back in the AFC North with three to play and still clinging to the final AFC wild-card slot.

Not that a second straight Baltimore division title is really in serious doubt. The Ravens have already been posted as a 14½-point favorite to defeat the Jets on Thursday night, and that would seal the deal.

Still, it’s hard not to give Mike Tomlin and the Steelers credit for rebounding from a disastrous start and the loss of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to stay in the playoff hunt this long with their second- and third-string quarterbacks running the show.

The Cardinals didn’t have a lot to play for, but they climbed back from an early 10-point deficit to tie the score before the Steelers regained control of the game in the second half.

Broncos 38, Texans 24: The Texans aren’t an immediate threat to the Ravens, but Sunday’s lopsided loss to the woeful Broncos clearly calls into question whether they are a team with a real chance to go deep in the playoffs.

The loss is even more mystifying in the wake of their big victory over the Patriots last week, but they remain on top of the AFC South standings in a virtual tie with the Tennessee Titans, who they will play twice over the final three weeks of the regular season.

Titans 42, Raiders 21: Realistically, the Titans aren’t in the running for a postseason bye, but they hold the distinction of being the second-hottest team in the AFC after surging past the Raiders with a 21-0 second half to win their fourth straight game.

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They’ve become a force to be reckoned with behind veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who passed for 391 yards and three touchdowns and posted a 140.4 passer rating. We’ll find out soon just how formidable they might be when they go head-to-head with the Texans for the division lead next week and face Houston again in Week 17.

The second-half collapse ended any real hope of the Raiders competing for the final wild-card berth.

Browns 27, Bengals 19: The Browns were the darlings of the preseason pundits, but they had to work pretty hard to hold off the 1-12 Bengals on Sunday, and the victory still left them all but mathematically out of the playoff picture.

Their Super Bowl might be their Week 16 home game against the Ravens, who they hammered, 40-25, in Week 4. That was the last time the Ravens lost a game and the rematch might not have major playoff ramifications since the Ravens can lose a game and still hold on to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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