So much for all the experts during the preseason warning that John Harbaugh’s string of postseason appearances was in serious danger this year. The Ravens would have to secede from the NFL to miss the playoffs now, but the focus will soon shift to how well they can position themselves for a real Super Bowl run.
The way it looks at the moment, they could easily end up in the same situation as last year, getting a first-round bye and looking at a playoff road that would start at home and end up going through (ugh!) Houston. But there is almost a third of the season left to play and a lot can – and will – happen between now and then.
The Texans hold a one-game lead over the Ravens in the overall AFC standings and the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they would have to struggle down the stretch to open the door for the Ravens to win the top seed. That probably isn’t going to happen, since they don’t have a particularly tough remaining schedule. They might lose to the Patriots on the road two weeks from now, but it would be a big surprise if they finished worse than 13-3.
The Ravens’ late-season schedule, meanwhile, is looking more and more difficult as the Redskins emerge as a possible NFC playoff contender and the Denver Broncos and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants continue to gather momentum.
It’s going to be hard enough to hold off the Patriots, who somehow ended up with a much easier schedule than the Ravens despite finishing above them last year. The scheduling computer must have discounted the Lee Evans drop and figured that the Ravens were the better team in 2011 anyway.
While the Ravens play the Steelers, Redskins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals, the Patriots have tough games against the Texans and 49ers at home, but their other three games are against the Dolphins (twice) and Jaguars.
The Ravens hold a one-game lead over the Patriots and own the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they would have to cede two games to them over the last five weeks to fall behind them in the conference seedings. That could happen, but with three of the Ravens remaining five games at home, it probably won’t.
Perhaps more problematic are the Broncos, who have a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way and could come into M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 16 with a chance to overtake the Ravens with a victory. The Ravens haven’t lost at home in a long time, but the prospect of facing Peyton Manning with so much on the line can’t be very appetizing.
Bottom line: The Ravens still need every single one of the remaining games on their schedule, even if it seems like they stole one in San Diego on Sunday.