It’s amazing to say, given that they last won a game on Oct. 14, but the Ravens remain in the thick of the AFC wild-card race, one game back of the leaders for a sixth and final playoff berth. They have significant problems to sort out in-house, but the same could be said for the other mediocrities in this bustle of would-be contenders.
So here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Ravens’ competitors (not counting the Los Angeles Chargers, who hold a two-game lead for the first wild-card spot) as the NFL turns toward its stretch run:
Cincinnati Bengals (5-4, 1-0 vs. Ravens)
The Bengals, next up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, bear little resemblance to the team that hammered the Ravens in Week 2.
They’re without their best offensive player in wide receiver A.J. Green, who’s dealing with a toe injury. They just fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after surrendering 51 points to the New Orleans Saints. They rank 32nd in the league in total defense and 25th in total offense and have been outscored by 53 points on the season. Basically, it’s a miracle they still have a winning record.
Best quality: Running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd have matured into excellent players and mitigate Green’s absence.
Worst quality: The Bengals have been comprehensively awful on defense, allowing the most passing yards per game and the second-most rushing yards per game. Their past three opponents have averaged 43 points a game. That’s hard to do when you’re led by one of the best defensive players in the league in Geno Atkins.
Toughest remaining games: At the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 14 and at the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17, though it’s not clear what the Steelers will be playing for at that point.
Tennessee Titans (5-4, 0-1 vs. Ravens)
The Titans have hung around, despite the fact they’re 29th in the league in total offense and were stomped by the Ravens at home in Week 6. They’ve won their last two, including an impressive 34-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Week 10.
They run the ball frequently, if not terribly efficiently, and have played excellent situational defense under former Ravens coordinator Dean Pees.
Best quality: Pees’ defense hadn’t made many headlines before it got after Tom Brady last weekend. Jurrell Casey, the Titans’ best defensive player, is relatively anonymous. But the Titans are solid on all three levels and have been the stingiest team in the league in the red zone. They lead the league in scoring defense and rank sixth in total defense.
Worst quality: Though quarterback Marcus Mariota is an accurate thrower and a threat with his legs, the Titans don’t move the ball through the air. They rank third-worst in the league in passing yards per game.
Toughest remaining games: The Titans still have serious work to do in the AFC South, with two games against the improving Indianapolis Colts and a road test against the division-leading Houston Texans.
Miami Dolphins (5-5, 0-0 vs. Ravens)
With a below-average defense, a sluggish offense and a point differential of -57, the Dolphins have defied all logic by remaining in the wild-card race. They’ve lost five of their past seven, including double-digit drubbings by the Detroit Lions, Texans and Green Bay Packers.
Give coach Adam Gase credit. He has his team in playoff contention for the second time in three years, despite subpar talent.
Best quality: The Dolphins have excelled on special teams, led by one of the league’s best returners in Jakeem Grant, deadly situational punter Matt Haack and accurate rookie placekicker Jason Sanders.
Worst quality: With Ryan Tannehill out because of a shoulder injury, the Dolphins have been starting Brock Osweiler at quarterback. He hasn’t been a disaster, winning two games and minimizing his mistakes. But Miami ranks 26th in the league in passing and has been particularly ineffective on third down and in the red zone.
Toughest remaining games: The Dolphins are off this week but will return on the road against the Colts. After that, they face difficult back-to-back games at home against the Patriots on Dec. 9 and on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 16.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5, 0-0 vs. Ravens)
The Colts started 1-5, but they’ve won three in a row and stand out on this list for their positive point differential and top-10 offense. They entered last weekend with the worst playoff odds of any team on this list, according to Football Outsiders.
But their home-leaning schedule will help, and they have the best quarterback of any team in this group in Andrew Luck.
Best quality: Luck has proved he’s back from a career-threatening shoulder injury, completing 66.3 percent of his passes and throwing for 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions in nine games. He’s led the Colts to league-best efficiency on third down as they’ve averaged 29 points a game.
Worst quality: The Colts are so-so on defense, where they’ve struggled to stop opposing passers and get off the field on third down. They gave up 42 points to the New York Jets, which never looks good on a playoff resume.
Toughest remaining games: Like their divisional rivals, the Titans, the Colts face a lot of work in the AFC South, with two games remaining against Tennessee and one at Houston.