The Ravens’ precarious playoff picture can be summed up in one neat and tidy dichotomy. If everything goes wrong for them this weekend, they’ll enter Week 17 with no playoff hopes. If everything goes right for them this weekend, they’ll enter Week 17 with still more work to do.
The nightmare scenario would unfold over two days of games and about 27 hours. If the Tennessee Titans win and the Ravens lose to the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday, Sunday could be a day of reckoning. In that situation, the Ravens would be mathematically eliminated from contention for both the AFC North title and the AFC’s second wild-card berth with victories Sunday by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.
Six games outside StubHub Center this weekend affect the Ravens’ postseason chances, and a few more could factor into an up-for-grabs Week 17. Here’s how they rank in terms of importance, from most to least.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints (4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
The Steelers (8-5-1) lead the AFC North by a half-game, which means the Ravens’ playoff calculus is clear. To claim the AFC North — and earn a top-four seed and a home playoff game — they need to win at least one more game than Pittsburgh over their final two games. With the Steelers finishing the regular season at home against the injury-ravaged Cincinnati Bengals, this becomes one of the most important games of the Ravens’ season.
2. Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans (4:30 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network)
A nonconference loss wouldn’t be fatal for the Titans (8-6), who could catch up to the AFC’s sixth playoff spot with a Week 17 win. But a defeat would put them one step closer to their season’s end. If Tennessee and the Ravens both finish 9-7, the Ravens would win the head-to-head tiebreaker based on their Week 6 win in Nashville.
3. New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
With a superior conference record, the Colts (8-6) have more wiggle room than the Titans. If Indianapolis loses to the Giants and beats their AFC South foe in Week 17, the tiebreaker with a 9-7 Ravens team would be strength of victory, defined as the combined winning percentage of all the opponents a team has defeated. The Colts have the advantage there for now, but it’s subject to change the next two weeks. And ending the season with a road win over the Titans won’t be easy; only the Ravens have beaten them there this season.
4. Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
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The Ravens are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot with two more wins. But the caveat merits a reminder nonetheless. If the Ravens and Steelers both win out, and if either the Colts or Titans win two games, the Ravens could conceivably still miss the playoffs. How so? If the Texans (10-4) also lose their remaining two games, they’d surrender the AFC South title to a 10-6 Colts or Titans team with a superior division record. But Houston could claim the final wild-card spot based on its strength of victory, which for now is also higher than the Ravens’.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
The Dolphins (7-7) need to beat the Jaguars at home and then the Buffalo Bills on the road to have a chance at the postseason. If the Ravens, Colts or Titans finish 10-6, Miami’s hopes are done. If any number of other unlikely results don’t come to fruition, they’re done.
6. Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS)
The Browns (6-7-1) also have a near-impossible path to the playoffs, but a loss knocks them out. The Ravens would prefer to face a Cleveland team playing for pride to one fighting for a potential playoff bid in their regular-season finale.
7. Games featuring a few teams the Ravens beat this year
The Ravens’ strength-of-victory tiebreaker, if ever reached, needs some help. Wins by the Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend would help, if only marginally. The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders meet this weekend in a zero-sum game, and the same goes for the Bengals-Browns matchup — assuming the Ravens win the following week. A win by the Steelers or Titans would help the Ravens’ strength of victory but little else.