One week after the Ravens played their first Sunday game in nearly a month, their season isn’t completely back to normal. After all, they’re suddenly Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
The Ravens (9-5) will enter their Week 16 game against the New York Giants in search of a fourth straight win and some help from around the league. They could end the regular season with 11 wins, and even that might not be enough in the first year of the NFL’s expanded playoff field.
Here’s a look at the weekend’s six most important games outside Baltimore, including how the Ravens could enter Sunday’s action in the projected playoff field before ever playing.
Dolphins at Raiders (8:15 p.m. Saturday)
Root for Las Vegas. If the Ravens don’t win another game, they’re not getting into the playoffs. But if they win only one — and it’s against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 — one Miami loss would be enough for them to advance. The Dolphins (9-5), currently the AFC’s seventh seed, face the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills (11-3) in their regular-season finale, so a win against an inconsistent Raiders team (7-7) wouldn’t doom the Ravens. Miami owns the current tiebreaker, thanks to its superior conference winning percentage. But with another loss and a Ravens loss to the Giants over the next two weeks, the tiebreaker would go to strength of victory. The Ravens have the strong edge there.
Falcons at Chiefs (1 p.m. Sunday)
Root for Kansas City. The Chiefs (13-1) can wrap up the No. 1 seed and a wild-card-round bye with a win over Atlanta (4-10), and they’ll probably get there one way or another. But no one wants to face a second-seeded Kansas City team in their playoff opener.
Browns at Jets (1 p.m. Sunday)
Root for the Jets. How high are the stakes for Cleveland (10-4) over the next two weeks? The Browns could win their first-ever AFC North title in Week 17. Or they could miss the playoffs entirely. The Ravens’ Week 14 win in Cleveland might prove to be their most important of the season, as it secured the season sweep and a potential head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Ravens win out, they’d need just one Browns loss to leapfrog them in the wild-card pecking order. Cleveland is a heavy favorite against the Jets (1-13), and it’ll wrap up the regular season with a home game against the fading Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3).
Colts at Steelers (1 p.m. Sunday)
Root for Pittsburgh. Yes, you read that right: Root for Pittsburgh. Indianapolis (10-4) leads the Ravens in the wild-card chase, but it’s a tenuous one-game advantage. If the teams end the regular season with matching records, the Ravens would have the tiebreaker, thanks to their Week 9 victory. The Colts have won three straight games, and if they get past Pittsburgh, they probably won’t lose to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13) in Week 17, either.
Titans at Packers (8:20 p.m. Sunday)
Root for Tennessee (for now). The Titans (10-4) would win a wild-card tiebreaker with the Ravens, meaning only consecutive losses to the Packers (11-3) and the Houston Texans (4-10) could help out. But the Ravens might need Tennessee and Pittsburgh to keep pressure on the Bills entering Week 17. If the Steelers beat Indianapolis, a Titans win here wouldn’t hurt; Tennessee might be the Ravens’ preferred wild-card matchup. The Titans have the worst defense of any potential playoff team, according to Football Outsiders, and their special teams have been a persistent weakness.
Bills at Patriots (8:15 p.m. Monday)
Root for New England. This Bills game doesn’t affect the Ravens’ playoff odds much, but the next one could. If the Titans and Steelers lose Sunday, Buffalo would wrap up the AFC’s No. 2 seed with a win over the Patriots (6-8), transforming a potentially significant Week 17 game against Miami into a rest-your-starters opportunity.