Four days after the Kansas City Chiefs secured a playoff spot with their win over the Ravens, the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday became the second AFC team to clinch — with their win over the Chiefs.
Because life is far from fair, the hypercompetitive AFC West will send one of those teams on the road for a wild-card playoff game next month. This weekend’s schedule will help decide which four other AFC teams will join them in the postseason.
It is not a make-or-break Sunday for the Ravens and the AFC’s three other 7-6 teams, whose conference records — a crucial potential tiebreaker — will remain unchanged. But every defeat leaves a little less margin for error entering the season’s final days.
By Sunday night, the Ravens could be atop the AFC North, possibly headed for a home playoff game, or they could be a game back of the conference’s second wild-card spot. Here’s where they can get some help.
Houston Texans at New York Jets (4:30 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network)
The Texans (9-4) can clinch the AFC South with a win, a loss or tie by the Indianapolis Colts, and a loss or tie by the Miami Dolphins. There are no significant playoff implications for the Ravens here, but a division title would at least help remove one team from the wild-card picture.
Tennessee Titans at New York Giants (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
Because it’s a nonconference game for the Titans (7-6), a loss wouldn’t torpedo their postseason aspirations: According to The New York Times’ playoff simulator, their chances would dip from about 26 percent to about 12 percent. But to remain in contention, Tennessee would have to close out the season with home wins over the Washington Redskins and Colts.
Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
A minor miracle Sunday against the New England Patriots kept the Dolphins’ hopes very much alive. As with the Titans, a loss to an NFC team wouldn’t be a death knell, especially with Miami’s strong 6-4 record in conference play. Remember that the Dolphins would lose a tiebreaker against the Colts because of an earlier head-to-head loss, but after Sunday's test, their schedule sets up quite nicely, with a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and a road matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. Sunday, Fox)
Unfortunately for the Colts, they’re the only 7-6 AFC team facing an NFC opponent with a winning record Sunday. Even more unfortunate is that it’s the Cowboys, owners of the league’s longest active winning streak. But Indianapolis is 4-2 at home this season, while Dallas is 2-4 on the road. After this weekend, the Colts host the Giants before facing the Titans in Nashville.
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
The Ravens needed the Patriots’ help last week against the Dolphins. Didn’t get it. They’ll call on New England (9-4) again Sunday, and the implications of a win would be significant for both parties. With a Ravens win and a Steelers loss, the Ravens would climb into first place in the AFC North for the first time since Week 6. New England, meanwhile, would be one step closer to possibly catching the Chiefs for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. As for the Steelers (7-5-1), well, you don’t want to pin your hopes on ending a four-game losing streak by beating the Saints in New Orleans.