With focus on the Ravens playoff chances, it was a wild weekend featuring three teams from the AFC North. The Browns had the Patriots pinned but gave up two touchdowns in the final 30 seconds to lose it 27-26. The Steelers Antonio Brown was expecting Mike Tomlin to re-route him away from the sideline. But Brown inexplicably stepped out of bounds, uncontested, on his way to an easy would be game winning score, costing Pittsburgh a victory and their outside shot at January football. Miami, which is in Florida, where the high was 81 yesterday, went up to cold snowy Pittsburgh and won 34-28 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Of course, there are the Ravens. An NFL record six lead changes in the 4th quarter after playing the first half in blizzard like conditions that dumped about 4 inches of snow on the field in a matter of two hours. It was the kind of weather you made it a point to go out and play football in as a kid.
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Cincinnati was very boring in comparison. The Bengals handled their business with the Colts quite easily, 42-28. Weather wasn’t a factor. It was the third straight home game that the Bengals have scored 40+.
All that excitement led to very little movement on the playoff landscape. The Bengals win means they move up to the #3 seed ahead of the Colts. (A Browns win would have made Cincy the #2 seed). The Ravens win means they keep pace for the division, two games out, with one more matchup with Cincinnati. It also means they keep their spot as the #6 seed. The Steelers loss all but eliminates them from reasonable playoff talks, and allows the Miami Dolphins to hang around at 7-6. Thank goodness the Ravens decided to win their one road game this year in South Beach.
The playoff landscape has narrowed with only four teams realistically in the hunt for the second wild card spot, all of them with tough matchups on paper. It’s now a two horse race for the AFC North crown. Here is a breakdown of the Week 15 action with AFC playoff implications.
Chargers @ Broncos (Thursday night) – San Diego is 6-7 and would need to win out to get to what looks like will be the necessary nine wins to get into the postseason. They probably wish they we’re playing anyone else this week. The early line is Broncos by 11.
Jets @ Panthers (Sunday, 4pm) – It’s the same situation as the Chargers. 6-7, need to win out, would rather play anyone else (except maybe Denver). The early line is Carolina by 12. I don’t think the Jets will find the answers on offense to win on the road against that D.
Dolphins vs. Patriots (Sunday, 1pm) – Miami got a gift when Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds. They were inches away from being in the same boat as San Diego and New York. Two games out of the wild card with three left to play. As it stands, if they beat their division rival Patriots at home next week, it will put the pressure on the Ravens to go on the road, where they struggle, and beat a hungry Lions team in need of win for themselves on Monday night. This will be the game all of Baltimore will have its eyes on come Sunday afternoon. Yes, it may make you throw up in your mouth a little; you have to root for the Patriots here.
Bengals @ Steelers (Sunday, 8:30pm) – If the Ravens wish to catch the Bengals for the division title they have to lose at least one of the next two. In week 16, they host the Vikings. I would give the edge to Cincy there with zero hesitation. So this is the second game Ravens fans will have their eyes on. Once again, that sick feeling, have to root for the Steelers. I don’t expect them to roll over and play dead with little to play for. But some conspiracy theorists might think otherwise if the Bengals go on the road and beat the brakes off Pitt. In 5 career games vs. the Steelers, Andy Dalton has struggled. “The Ginger Cannon” has posted a 52.9 completion%, five TDs, five INTs, and a QB rating of 67.8.
Ravens @ Lions (Monday Night Football) – Baltimore has the advantage of knowing exactly what is at stake before they take the field. It only becomes a must win should the Miami Dolphins upset the Patriots. We’ll break down this game plenty throughout the week.
So let’s look at the possible scenarios between the Ravens, Bengals, and Dolphins who sit just one Ravens slip up behind.
Ravens win, Bengals win, Dolphins win – Nothing changes except the Bengals move up to the #2 seed (H2H tie break with NE)
Ravens win, Bengals win, Dolphins lose – Ravens take a two game lead over the Dolphins. Only need one more win or a Dolphins loss to ensure a playoff spot. Patriots win the AFC East. Bengals need one more win to wrap up the AFC North.
*Ravens win, Bengals lose, Dolphins lose – Same as above, however the Ravens trail Cincy by one game for the division with two to play including one with the Bengals.
Ravens win, Bengals lose, Dolphins win – Same as above. However, Week 16 becomes dicey. CIN v. MIN, MIA @ BUF, BAL v. NE. Ravens easily with the toughest matchup if they want to keep division and WC hopes alive. Sets up a situation where the Ravens could win the division, and Bengals could fall out of the WC (Miami own H2H tie break with Cincy). Cross that bridge when we get to it.
Ravens lose, Bengals lose, Dolphins lose – Nothing changes, maybe the Chargers and Jets creep back into the picture, but unlikely. Bengals would need to lose out, and Ravens win out for Baltimore to win the division.
**Ravens lose, Bengals win, Dolphins win – The Bengals clinch the AFC North, the Dolphins move into the final WC spot.
Ravens lose, Bengals lose, Dolphins win – Ravens fall out of the WC, but the division is still up for grabs If Cincinnati loses to Minnesota in week 16 and Ravens beat New England.
Ravens lose, Bengals win, Dolphins lose – Bengals win the division, Ravens stay in the WC. Dolphins still right there.
*Best case scenario, **Worst case scenario
It is paramount that the Miami Dolphins lose in week 15, even if the Ravens win. If the Dolphins win, their remaining schedule is a road game at Buffalo and a home meeting with the New York Jets. On paper it looks significantly easier than the Ravens matchups with New England and Cincinnati. We don’t want to be playing catch up with two games and Miami controlling their destiny with that slate.
A Ravens win and Dolphins loss gives Baltimore some breathing room where they can lose one of their last two games, or both depending on what Miami does, and still make the postseason.