The Ravens have been reluctant to label Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals as must-win. At least not without some equivocation. Take cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who said Wednesday that the team thinks “every game is a must-win.”
But, he acknowledged, “when you come off three losses, you definitely know you definitely have to win.”
A fourth straight defeat would drop the Ravens to 4-6 with remaining games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, two of the NFL’s best teams. With a win, they could conceivably hold the AFC’s second wild-card spot by the end of Sunday.
Here’s where they will need some help in Week 11.
Houston (6-3) faces opponents with losing records in five of its final seven games. Not exactly an uncomfortable schedule for a team with a one-game lead in the division over the Tennessee Titans (5-4). A Texans win would move them one step closer to the AFC South crown, which would leave the Titans to fight for a wild-card berth. The Ravens already have the crucial head-to-head tiebreaker there.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
With wins Sunday by both the Ravens and Colts, the Ravens would have the slightest of edges among four 5-5 teams. Because the Ravens haven’t played Indianapolis (4-5), their 5-3 conference record, the second wild-card tiebreaker for nondivision opponents, would trump the Colts’ 4-4 mark. Against Cincinnati, the Ravens would prevail based on their superior winning percentage in AFC North play (2-3 over 1-2). And the Ravens already have beaten the Titans.
The Steelers (6-2-1) have emerged as the class of the AFC North, but their reign atop the division is not certain. After Sunday’s road game, Pittsburgh has home dates with the Chargers and the New England Patriots, plus a Week 16 road game against the New Orleans Saints. A Jaguars loss, meanwhile, would effectively sink 3-6 Jacksonville’s postseason chances, decluttering the playoff picture somewhat.
The Chargers are a quiet 7-2, comfortably ahead of the pack in the AFC for its top wild-card spot, with no team within two games. But it’s hard to imagine anyone but the Chiefs (9-1) claiming the AFC West crown, and the teams behind the Chargers won’t be rooting for them to catch up.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN)
A Chiefs win hurts the Chargers, which helps the Ravens, if only marginally. It’s unlikely Kansas City will have clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed by Week 14, when the Ravens visit Arrowhead Stadium, but a win helps, and the possibility is worth monitoring. Would coach Andy Reid rest any players or simplify his game plan if there was little to play for?