There have been a lot of questions about why the Buffalo Bills (7-6) currently occupy the sixth and final AFC playoff spot when, in fact, the currently seventh-seeded Ravens (7-6) would get that spot if both teams win the rest of their regular-season games and finish 10-6. Here’s the answer:
The first tiebreaking criterion for deciding a two-way tie for the final wild-card spot is head-to-head play. The Ravens and Bills don’t play this year, so we move on to the second one, which is winning percentage in conference games. If both the Ravens and Bills win out, they’d finish with identical 8-4 conference records, so that’s a wash as well.
The third tiebreaker is record against common opponents, and here’s where it gets interesting. This tiebreaker applies only if the two teams that are tied have four common opponents. The Ravens and Bills currently do not, so this criteria doesn’t apply now, but it will by season’s end. By then, the Ravens and Bills will have both played the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins. Again, if both the Ravens and Bills win out, the Ravens would have a 5-0 record against common opponents while the Bills’ mark would be 4-1 (they lost to the Bengals in September). That’s what would get the Ravens that sixth seed over Buffalo.
However, until the two teams officially have four common opponents, the tiebreaker goes to the fourth criteria and that’s strength of victory. Right now, the Bills have the advantage over the Ravens, which is why they are the current sixth seed. But that really means little.
A few more playoff thoughts
The common belief for a few weeks was that the runner-up in the AFC South (either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans) was a near lock for the first wild-card spot, leaving the one other wild-card available for teams such as the Ravens, Bills and Los Angeles Chargers.
However, the Titans suddenly don’t look like a playoff lock. They are 8-5, but they still have a road game against the suddenly formidable San Francisco 49ers along with home games versus two first-place teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Jaguars. Struggling Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is also now dealing with a minor knee injury.
While the Chargers match the Ravens and Bills’ 7-6 record, they would take over sole possession of first place in the AFC West on Saturday with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, who are in first at 7-6. That’s why I didn’t include them in any three-way tie scenarios with the Bills and Ravens.
This is looking too far ahead, but it’s too enticing to pass up: If the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jaguars and Ravens all win their final three games, there’s a decent possibility the Ravens could face the New England Patriots in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots could fall into the third seed behind both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville if they lose to the Steelers on Sunday and the Steelers and Jaguars both take care of business the rest of the regular season.
Not on the same page
Ravens coach John Harbaugh offered no explanation Monday about why quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin don’t seem to be on the same page, but the numbers don’t lie. In the past three games, Flacco has targeted Maclin 24 times and only eight of those passes have been completed for 74 total yards. That’s certainly not efficient. Maclin has had a drop or two, but far too often, you’re seeing situations where he’ll cut outside and Flacco’s throw goes inside, or Maclin stops a route and the ball sails well over his head.
Flacco and Maclin will surely be asked about it this week, but you have to wonder whether the disconnect stems from a lack of practice time together. Flacco missed all of training camp with a back injury. Maclin has missed two games and a lot of practice time with myriad physical problems, including back and shoulder soreness. There have been times, including in recent weeks, when Maclin has barely been able to practice.
Whether that’s the reason or not, the lack of chemistry between quarterback and receiver has been a problem that’s preventing the team’s suddenly effective offense from reaching another level.
Ten quick thoughts
1.) We’ll learn more about Chris Moore’s injury status going forward, but regardless, the Ravens need to start dressing more than four wide receivers on game days. With Maclin dealing with myriad physical problems all season, they’re playing with fire keeping such a low number at the position.
2.) Watching how much space the Steelers and their tight ends had in the middle of the field Sunday reminded me of just how much the Ravens miss retired weak-side linebacker Zachary Orr. The Ravens also certainly wouldn’t be so reliant on a clearly banged-up C.J. Mosley if Orr were playing, too.
3.) For some reason, there’s been a lot of talk about running back Alex Collins’ contract situation, but it’s a non-issue right now. He’s not eligible to be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2019 season.
4.) One of the most astonishing statistics — or discouraging ones if you’re a Ravens fan — is that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 228 yards against the Ravens in the fourth quarter alone. Flacco has thrown for 228 yards or more in just four of 13 games this year.
5.) Sunday’s thrilling Ravens-Steelers game on NBC probably guarantees that at least one of their 2018 matchups will be in prime time for a 12th straight year. The games between the rivals are just too closely contested and compelling to be limited to earlier time slots.
6.) The number of points the Ravens have given up without top cornerback Jimmy Smith on the field for the full game over the past two seasons: 27, 14, 26, 31, 27 and 39. The number of points the Ravens have given up in three other games during which Smith was injured in the first half and didn’t return (New York Giants, Patriots and Detroit Lions): 27, 30 and 20. It’s a trend the Ravens will have to end over these final three weeks if they want to make the playoffs.
7.) Here’s an important stat to keep in mind as it pertains to the previous thought: The Ravens’ final three opponents — the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis and Cincinnati — rank 23rd, 31st and 32nd in the league in total offense. I’m not sure how a team with a relatively accomplished quarterback in Andy Dalton, a couple of explosive running backs and A.J. Green can have the least-productive offense in the league.
8.) A week after fans were calling rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey a bust for giving up some big plays against the Lions, they want certain Ravens coaches fired because they wouldn’t use the first-round draft pick to shadow Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, proving once again that the NFL is a week-to-week league.
9.) Have I mentioned in this space how badly the Ravens need a fast and athletic pass-catching tight end? That has to be close to the top of their offseason wish list. Ravens tight ends continue to do a commendable job blocking, but the four of them combined for just one catch for 1 yard Sunday. It was even more glaring compared with the success of the Steelers’ tight ends in the game.
10. It’s almost a guarantee that the first or second play after rookie linebacker Tim Williams enters the game for the first time, the opposing team will run right at him. Williams, who is still looking for his first NFL sack, was put on skates by the Steelers on Le’Veon Bell’s 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.