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The Baltimore Sun sports staff considers some key questions as the Ravens (5-2) prepare to start the unofficial second half of their season Sunday at home against the New England Patriots.

Will the Ravens make the playoffs? If so, how far will they get?

Jen Badie, editor: The final half of the Ravens’ schedule will not be easy: the Patriots, Texans and 49ers all at home, and the Rams and Bills on the road. But everything is going the Ravens’ way in the AFC North, which is uncharacteristically the weakest division so far this season, so they should make the playoffs. With everyone healthy, the Ravens really could beat anyone in the AFC, and I could see them making it to a divisional-round game. Maybe we’ll even get a Lamar Jackson-Patrick Mahomes rematch. Ravens record: 10-6

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C.J. Doon, editor: Not only will the Ravens likely make the playoffs, but there’s a good chance they get a home playoff game and maybe even a first-round bye in a watered-down AFC. If the Ravens get the No. 2 seed, they’d be just a home win away from the AFC championship game. After that, who knows? With the way things stand right now, it seems likely that we’ll see the first divisional-round game in Baltimore since 2011. Even if they have to play a wild-card game, they’ll have a good chance of beating teams like the Texans, Bills or Colts. With the defense getting healthier and Lamar Jackson playing at a near-MVP level, expect the Ravens to make it to divisional weekend and make a strong push for an AFC title. Ravens record: 11-5

Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: The Ravens will enter the postseason as two-time AFC North champs and host one home game before being knocked out by the top-seeded New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. Lamar Jackson has shown improvement as a passer and that will carry into the playoffs, but a big game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, will prove to be too much for the young quarterback. Ravens record: 12-4

Mike Preston, columnist: Second round, possibly AFC championship game. There are no super teams in the NFL anymore, just average and those barely above average. The Ravens are in that group somewhere. Ravens record: 10-6

Peter Schmuck, columnist: The Ravens will make the playoffs despite their tough remaining schedule because they’ve built a nice cushion in the AFC North. They could go deep into the playoffs if they can stay healthy and harass some quarterbacks. Ravens record: 11-5

Jonas Shaffer, reporter: The Ravens have been the best team in a disappointing and depleted AFC North, and it’d take a second-half nosedive for them to not repeat as champions. A home playoff game (or two) isn’t out of the question for this team, but the Ravens have shown they can win big games on the road, too. Still, it’s tough to see a team with both a weakened pass rush and suboptimal passing attack make it past the AFC championship game. Ravens record: 10-6

Childs Walker, reporter: The Ravens will hold on to their lead in the AFC North despite a few schedule-induced bumps along the way. They’ll win a wild-card playoff game at home before falling in a close road game in the AFC divisional round. Ravens record: 10-6

Who is the most important player to the Ravens going forward this season?

Badie: A player we’ve seen very little of this season because of injury: Jimmy Smith. We saw how the Ravens secondary seemed to fall apart after he was injured in the opener — a common theme over the past few seasons. With the acquisition of Marcus Peters, the Ravens secondary seemed to regain some of its mojo. If Smith can come back for the second half of the season, and remain healthy, the defense could go from bad to good to great.

Doon: Lamar Jackson goes without saying. But how about Marshal Yanda? When Jackson wanted to go for it on fourth-and-2 in Seattle, who did he point to for reassurance? His seven-time Pro Bowl right guard. The Ravens want to punish teams with their running game, and they’ve been able to do that in large part because of Jackson’s unique ability, but also because of a strong offensive line. Ronnie Stanley has become one of the best left tackles in the NFL, Orlando Brown Jr. has steadily improved at right tackle, and Matt Skura and Bradley Bozeman have held up in the interior. Yanda might be 35 and on the decline, but he’s still among the best at his position in the league. His health is crucial to keeping the offense on pace to set the all-time NFL rushing record.

Oyefusi: Quarterback Lamar Jackson. The second-year pro has jumped into MVP discussions in recent weeks, leading the Ravens with his arm and legs. If he can sustain this level of play through the second half of the season, the Ravens will continue to be thought of as AFC contenders.

Preston: Lamar Jackson, who else? He is the offense, and everything goes through him.

Schmuck: Here’s what Howard Cosell used to call “a piercing look into the obvious.” Lamar Jackson has been and will continue to be the most valuable and important Raven.

Shaffer: Thanks to Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have the NFL’s best ground game and a solid enough aerial attack. But the passing offense in recent weeks has been largely limited to short- and medium-range throws. It desperately needs Marquise “Hollywood” Brown back. The rookie wide receiver is fast and talented enough to help clear underneath passing lanes for targets such as tight end Mark Andrews and keep run-stopping safeties out of the box.

Walker: The obvious answer is Lamar Jackson, but that’s boring, so let’s go with Marquise Brown. The rookie wide receiver has demonstrated that, when healthy, he’s the player best qualified to open up a downfield dimension in the Ravens offense. Brown is expected back for Week 9, but can he avoid the health woes that have interrupted his career to date?

Which game remaining on the Ravens’ schedule is the most important?

Badie: The next game. If the Ravens can beat the undefeated Patriots, we will know they can beat anyone and will be in the Super Bowl conversation.

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Doon: Dec. 8 at the Buffalo Bills. If the Ravens want to host a playoff game for the second straight year, this game will be crucial. Buffalo (5-2) could be jockeying with the Ravens for the third or fourth seed, and the Ravens might be hurting and desperate for a win after facing four possible playoff teams in the previous five weeks. Matchups against the Patriots (Sunday night), Texans (Nov. 17), Rams (Nov. 25) and 49ers (Dec. 1) are more exciting litmus tests, but the game in Buffalo comes at a crucial time as the Ravens prepare for the stretch run.

Oyefusi: Dec. 22 at the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have built a 2½ game lead in the division heading into their bye, but have a tough second-half schedule. The Browns, on the other hand, have started the season 2-4 but have a significantly easier schedule on the back end. The Browns already went on the road to beat the Ravens in Week 4, so if Cleveland catches fire, this Week 16 matchup could decide the division.

Preston: New England. If they win that one, then they have truly arrived.

Schmuck: The Week 16 matchup against the Browns will be a key late-season game because it could determine whether the Ravens win 10 or 11 games, shake the memory of the lopsided home loss to Cleveland and remove any doubt they are the dominant team in the division.

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Shaffer: It’s the next one. For as many games as Jackson’s won in his year as a starter, he still lacks a signature home victory. (Remember, the Browns team he ran all over in Week 17 last season finished 7-8-1.) The Patriots have set the standard for excellence in the NFL, and they have the defensive talent to make the Ravens as miserable as they were in their January playoff loss. This is an important measuring-stick game for the offense.

Walker: Dec. 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. Even if they continue playing well, the Ravens could go 1-3 or 2-2 over their next four games based on the quality of opposition. So they could go into December looking to reassert their position as the clear leader in the AFC North. The 49ers might have looked like an easy mark when the schedule came out, but they’re far from it, having won their first six games with one of the best defenses in the NFL. If the Ravens pass this test going into the home stretch, the playoffs will suddenly feel much closer to their grasp.

And the staff weighs in on how they see the divisions playing out.

Jen Badie

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Texans

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Bills, Colts

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: Rams

NFC wild cards: 49ers, Seahawks

NFC champ: Packers

Super Bowl champ: Packers

MVP: Russell Wilson

Coach of the Year: Sean Payton

C.J. Doon

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Colts

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Texans, Bills

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: 49ers

NFC wild cards: Seahawks, Vikings

NFC champ: Packers

Super Bowl champ: Patriots

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Coach of the Year: Sean Payton

Daniel Oyefusi

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Colts

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Bills, Raiders

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: 49ers

NFC wild cards: Vikings, Seahawks

NFC champ: Saints

Super Bowl champ: Saints

MVP: Lamar Jackson

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick

Mike Preston

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Colts

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Texans, Bills

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: 49ers

NFC wild cards: Vikings, Seahawks

NFC champ: Saints

Super Bowl champ: Saints

MVP: Patrick Mahomes

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan

Peter Schmuck

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Texans

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Bills, Colts

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: Seahawks

NFC wild cards: 49ers, Vikings

NFC champ: Seahawks

Super Bowl champ: Patriots

MVP: Russell Wilson

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan

Jonas Shaffer

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Texans

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Colts, Bills

AFC champ: Chiefs

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: 49ers

NFC wild cards: Seahawks, Panthers

NFC champ: Packers

Super Bowl champ: Chiefs

MVP: Russell Wilson

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan

Childs Walker

AFC East champ: Patriots

AFC North champ: Ravens

AFC South champ: Colts

AFC West champ: Chiefs

AFC wild cards: Bills, Texans

AFC champ: Patriots

NFC East champ: Cowboys

NFC North champ: Packers

NFC South champ: Saints

NFC West champ: 49ers

NFC wild cards: Vikings, Rams

NFC champ: Saints

Super Bowl champ: Patriots

MVP: Deshaun Watson

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan

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