Ravens still have two paths to the playoffs, but one is more direct

The Ravens head into the penultimate week of the regular season and a Christmas afternoon showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers with two remaining paths to the playoffs. One is far more direct than the other.

If the Ravens (8-6) beat the Steelers (9-5) Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) the following week, they'll win the AFC North. A win Sunday at Heinz Field would give the Ravens the head-to-head tiebreak over Pittsburgh if both teams finished the season with identical records.


As far as the Ravens' wild-card chances, that picture is much more complex, and they'll need a decent amount of help.

The Kansas City Chiefs (10-4), despite their loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans, have a stranglehold on the fifth seed and the first wild-card spot.

1.) If you want to understand the essence of watching the Ravens, this was it.

The second wild-card spot is currently held by the Miami Dolphins, who improved to 9-5 by taking apart the New York Jets on Saturday night.

If the Ravens lose one of their final two games and finish 9-7, this is what it's going to take to get the second wild-card spot:

>> Miami (9-5) needs to lose each of its final two games: this Saturday at the Buffalo Bills (7-7) and in Week 17 at home against the New England Patriots (12-2). A win in either game for the Dolphins would eliminate the Ravens from wild-card contention. The Ravens may know they're eliminated from wild-card contention by the time they kick off at Heinz Field because the Bills-Dolphins play a day earlier.

>> The reeling Denver Broncos (8-6) need to lose one of their final two games. The Broncos play at Kansas City on Christmas night and they end their season at home against the Oakland Raiders. If both the Broncos and Ravens finish 9-7, the Ravens would get the final wild-card spot because they'll have the better conference record.

Nobody wanted to talk about what would have happened if Ravens blitzing middle linebacker

>> The Houston Texans (8-6) and Tennessee Titans (8-6) are in a battle for first in the AFC South. However, they play one another in Week 17, meaning the team that doesn't win the division is bound to lose at least one more. The Ravens also would hold the conference record tiebreak over the Titans.

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