AFC wild-card playoff reset: Ravens atop four-team pack, but AFC North's up for grabs

Go ahead, flip a coin. Heads, the Ravens make the playoffs. Tails, they miss it for a fourth straight year. How fitting that, after an overtime loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs in which the game’s outcome seemed to teeter on a knife’s edge, the Ravens’ postseason odds are now essentially a 50-50 proposition.

The New York Times’ playoff simulator is split nearly even on the Ravens’ playoff chances; FiveThirtyEight’s model is slightly more bullish, with 55 percent odds. After a wild weekend of NFL action, some of it to the Ravens’ advantage, most of it not, the team has two paths to the postseason. It’s unclear which will be easier.


First, there is the wild-card route. Despite their defeat Sunday, the Ravens held on to the sixth playoff spot because of various tiebreakers over the AFC’s three other 7-6 contenders:

— With equal conference records, the Ravens win the tiebreaker over the Miami Dolphins because of their superior winning percentage in common games. In games against the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, the Ravens are 4-1 and the Dolphins 3-1. The Dolphins face the Bills again in Week 17, meaning they could finish with the same common-games record. Should that happen, the tiebreaker would be strength of victory, defined as the composite winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten.

— The Ravens win the tiebreaker over the Indianapolis Colts because of their superior winning percentage in conference play. The Ravens (6-4 in AFC) have two more conference games remaining, while the Colts (6-5 in AFC) have just one.

— The Colts win the tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans because of their win in their first meeting this year, but the teams meet again in Week 17. If the Titans win then, other tiebreaker procedures would be followed. The Ravens would win a tiebreaker over the Titans because of their own shutout victory in Week 6.

For the Ravens, there also remains the possibility of a division championship, which would ensure a top-four seed and home playoff game. With the Ravens and Steelers both losing Sunday, Pittsburgh maintained a half-game lead in the AFC North. Because of the Steelers’ season-opening tie, tiebreakers will likely not be required. The Ravens simply need to win more games than the Steelers over the next three weeks to be crowned.

Here’s where things stand heading into Week 15.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

Conference record: 4-5-1

AFC North record: 3-1-1

Schedule: vs. Patriots (9-4), at Saints (11-2), vs. Bengals (5-8)

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Steelers have a three-game losing streak, the AFC’s second worst. Only the Cincinnati Bengals’ five-game skid is longer, and there’s no relief in sight for Pittsburgh until its regular-season finale. The New England Patriots are 3-4 on the road this season but are coming off a devastating loss to the Dolphins. The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, have lost just once at home this year.

5. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3)

Conference record: 7-2

AFC West record: 2-2

Schedule: at Chiefs (11-2), vs. Ravens (7-6), at Broncos (6-7)

The Chargers, now a virtual lock to make the playoffs, have more wins than five NFL division leaders but still face a Herculean task in shedding their No. 5 seed. Even if they beat the Chiefs on Sunday to split the season series, they’re unlikely to equal Kansas City’s AFC West record, the next tiebreaker. To earn a top-four seed, they’ll have to finish ahead of the conference’s top team.


6. Ravens (7-6)

Conference record: 6-4

AFC North record: 2-3

Schedule: vs. Buccaneers (5-8), at Chargers (10-3), vs. Browns (5-7-1)

The Ravens could feel closer to a division title than to a wild-card berth after a good day Sunday. With a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Steelers loss, the Ravens would have approximately a 58 percent chance of snatching the No. 4 seed and a 67 percent chance of hosting a wild-card playoff game, according to the Times' simulator.

7. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Conference record: 6-5

AFC South record: 3-2

Schedule: vs. Cowboys (8-5), vs. Giants (5-8), at Titans (7-6)

Because both the Ravens and Colts face NFC teams this Sunday, leaving their conference records unchanged, Indianapolis can’t jump into the second wild-card spot unless it wins and the Ravens lose. The Colts stayed alive by taking down the hottest NFL team heading into Week 14. Can they follow their road win over the Houston Texans with a home victory over the hottest NFL team heading into Week 15? The Dallas Cowboys have won a league-best five straight games.

8. Miami Dolphins (7-6)

Conference record: 6-4

AFC East record: 4-1

Schedule: at Vikings (6-5-1), vs. Jaguars (4-9), at Bills (4-9)

The Dolphins were all but left for dead two weeks ago. Two straight wins later, only one of which required last-second laterals, they are creeping closer toward an unlikely postseason berth. Miami can’t claim a tiebreaker against the Colts because of its Week 12 loss in Indianapolis, so it’ll have to keep winning to keep hope alive. The Dolphins’ game Sunday should be their toughest test left.

9. Tennessee Titans (7-6)

Conference record: 5-6

AFC South record: 3-2


Schedule: at Giants (5-8), vs. Redskins (6-7), vs. Colts (7-6)

After their impressive win Thursday over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans were able to take in Sunday’s chaos from afar. Despite earlier losses to the Ravens, Dolphins and Colts, Tennessee has better postseason odds than Miami, according to the Times, and is behind only the Ravens among the four 7-6 teams, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projected chances. With each week, the importance of the Titans’ regular-season finale against the Colts only grows.

Dropped out: Denver Broncos (6-7)