If the NFL Playoffs started today, the Baltimore Ravens would be the AFC’s 2nd seed for the 2nd consecutive year. That would earn the Ravens a first round bye, and a possible match-up vs. the 3rd seed in the Divisional Round at M&T Bank Stadium.
It is hard for me to see Houston not enter the Playoffs as the number 1 seed overall. Obviously they are both a game ahead of Baltimore, and have the direct head-to-head win. The Texans do have to face New England, but currently have a 2 game advantage over the Patriots. They also have a 2 game advantage (and a head-to-head win) vs. Denver.
With 5 games remaining in the 2012 season, do you expect the Ravens to capture the AFC’s 2nd seed?
Baltimore, 9-2 overall, has a head-to-head win vs. New England (leading the AFC East at 8-3), and will host Denver (leading the AFC West at 8-3). The Patriots have a head-to-head win vs. the Broncos.
The Ravens remaining schedule is:
12/2 vs. Pittsburgh
12/9 @ Washington
12/23 NY Giants
12/30 @ Cincinnati
The Patriots remaining schedule is:
12/2 @ Miami
12/10 vs. Houston
12/16 vs. San Francisco
12/23 @ Jacksonville
12/30 vs. Miami
The Broncos remaining schedule is:
12/2 vs. Tampa Bay
12/6 @ Oakland
12/16 @ Baltimore
12/23 vs. Cleveland
12/30 vs. Kansas City
For Baltimore, the home game vs. the Broncos on the 16th is huge. Denver should win their other 4 games aside from their trip to Baltimore. Playing in-front of the home crowd, I would expect the Ravens to win that game. Still, Denver has won 6 games in a row, and 7 of their last 8. Manning is not going to be intimidated playing in Charm City. During their winning streak, the Broncos have scored 30+ points 5 times. The Ravens offense is going to need to score against Von Miller and company. The longer Baltimore and their running game can stay on the field, the less you have to worry about Manning.
The Denver game might have the most direct implications, but the rest of the Ravens schedule is not easy. The Redskins have won their last two games, and Robert Griffin III is showing he is going to impact games pretty much every week. Of course the Giants are the defending champs, have their own talented Manning, and that intimidating pass rush. Against anyone at home, I expect the Ravens to win, but that game will be physical.
The game that might scare me the most right now is at Cincinnati to end the year. The Bengals have suddenly won 3 games in a row, allowing just 29 points combined in those games. The Bengals have a lot of young talent, and a reasonable path to the playoffs. With the 44-13 beating the Ravens delivered Cincinnati to start the year in Baltimore; I don’t think Marvin Lewis will struggle to have his team motivated to face their AFC North foe.
I think the Patriots go 3-2, or possibly 4-1 down the stretch, but their previous loss to Baltimore keeps them behind the Ravens.
The Ravens will be in great shape if they can get that 2nd seed. Really is the key. The bye would allow Baltimore to be as healthy as they possibly can be going into their first Playoff game. It would also give the Ravens a home playoff game they would be favored to win. Should the Ravens win that Divisional Round game, and have to return to Houston for the AFC Championship; I’d like their chances.
I respect the Texans a lot, and have even before they rocked the Ravens earlier this year. However, if the two teams were to play again this year in the AFC Championship, I would expect a game still in the balance in the 4th Quarter. I think the Texans are the leagues deepest, and most talented team, but I think the Ravens are capable of beating anyone.
Baltimore is an experienced team, that has had a lot of success, and has plenty of pride. They will be a difficult out against anyone, especially against a team that bruised their egos earlier this year. I’d like to see the Ravens earn that chance to play Houston again, but only if Baltimore captures that 2nd seed. I can see the Ravens having a first round bye, a home win, and a trip to Houston as a possible road Baltimore could travel to get back to the Super Bowl. If the Ravens fail to secure the 2nd seed, I think they will be the 3rd seed, hosting Cincinnati in the Wild Card round. I would want zero parts of playing the Bengals a 3rd time, and in back-to-back weeks. Even if you won that game, you would be likely going out to Denver. The Broncos would be coming off a bye, and the Ravens could be preparing to head west on short rest. I would not like the Ravens chances of winning in Denver, if they were not able to beat the Broncos at home (in a game they need to win) several weeks earlier.
For there to be a chance of February 3rd ending with the Ravens hoisting the organizations 2nd Lombardi Trophy; it is imperative that the Baltimore is the AFC’s 2nd seed.