Path to the playoffs: Which Week 12 games can help or hurt the Ravens?

A week after confusion and uncertainty swirled around their season, the Ravens are in a better place: holding on to the AFC’s second and final wild-card berth, with a home game against the double-digit-underdog Oakland Raiders up next.

With a win Sunday, the Ravens (5-5) would keep their distance in the playoff race from the glut of teams nipping at their heels. A loss, however, would knock them from the No. 6 seed and back into the pack. Considering the road tests that still await, that would be an unwelcome development in Baltimore.

Here’s where they can get some help in Week 12.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

With their Week 11 win over the Bengals (5-5), the Ravens avoided having to cede the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker. They’re now ahead in the playoff picture because of their superior division record (2-3). With a loss to the Browns, Cincinnati would fall to 1-3 in AFC North play with games at Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers remaining.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 p.m. Sunday, FOX)

At 7-3, the Chargers are two games ahead of the five-team 5-5 traffic jam in the AFC wild-card race, with most computer projections giving them a 90-plus percent chance of making the postseason. The Ravens don’t have to pass the Chargers if they want the No. 5 seed; they just have to catch up to them, record-wise, and win their Week 16 matchup in Los Angeles.

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

The Ravens play neither 5-5 team this season, meaning a potential tiebreaker would come down to their record in conference play. The Ravens are 5-3 against AFC opponents, while the Dolphins and Colts are 4-3 and 4-4, respectively. A Miami win would derail one of the NFL’s hottest teams — Indianapolis has won four straight — while a Colts win would knock the Dolphins to .500 in AFC play. The former is probably preferable for Ravens fans.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)

Optimists should root for the Broncos (4-6), as a Steelers loss would give the Ravens an opening to close the gap in the AFC North. Pessimists should root for the Steelers (7-2-1), who have won six straight games and can all but crush Denver’s wild-card hopes with another.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN)

It’s a three-team race in the AFC South between the Texans (7-3), Titans (5-5) and Colts (5-5). A Houston win would drop Tennessee under .500 before the Titans embark on a very manageable three-week stretch, with games against the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets upcoming. Importantly, the Ravens already have the head-to-head tiebreaker against Tennessee.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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