Ravens Can't Clinch Playoffs Saturday, But Have Three Simple Ways of Advancing
It's the top question we've received from the moment Baltimore beat the Cleveland Browns Sunday: Is there any way the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
While a stress-free Christmas would be the perfect present with the Ravens sealing their playoff fate by beating the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 23, no such gift is possible.
No, not even if the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, who have 8-6 records just like Baltimore, both lose their Week 16 matchups. Not even then can the Ravens clinch.
Joe Ferreira, who's worked with the NFL on tiebreaker and clinching scenarios for 26 years, published the AFC playoff scenarios on Twitter last night, and Baltimore was not listed.
As Ferreira illustrates, the Titans can clinch this weekend by beating the L.A. Rams Saturday, combined with Bills and Ravens losses. So, why can't the Ravens clinch with a similar scenario – a win combined with Titans and Bills losses?
That's because if the Ravens were to drop their Week 17 game to the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Bills and Titans also won that week, all three would be 9-7.
While Baltimore would win a three-way 10-6 tiebreaker (common opponents) with those two teams, it would lose a three-way 9-7 tiebreaker (AFC conference record and strength of victory). If the Ravens don't get a victory over the Bengals, they'll have a worse conference winning percentage, which is the tiebreaker before common opponents.
The common opponents tiebreaker only comes in play if all three teams are 10-6. Baltimore would win that tiebreaker, become the fifth seed and likely take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Head hurt yet?
Well, to simplify it, just know these six things:
1) The Ravens can't clinch Saturday
2) The Ravens can clinch by winning out
3) A Baltimore playoff berth is a "virtual lock" at 91.8 percent, says ESPN
4) Both the fifth and sixth seeds are realistic possibilities
5) The Ravens can advance with a 9-7 record (and even 8-8), but would need help
6) There are many permutations for Baltimore to advance, but Russell Street Report's Ken McKusick summed up three simple ways ...
Last Time Ravens Face Chuck Pagano and Marvin Lewis as Head Coaches?
One of the reasons ESPN says Baltimore is a "virtual lock" to make the playoffs is because the Ravens face two teams with some of the worst records in the NFL.
The Colts and Bengals have a combined 8-20 record. They lost their last three games by a combined 15.6-point average and have been eliminated from playoff contention.
"Plus, their coaches – Chuck Pagano and Marvin Lewis – are likely in the final games with their teams," wrote ESPN.
If that's true, it seems fitting that their last games would come against the Ravens, seeing as both were defensive coordinators in Baltimore. Lewis coached the legendary 2000 unit, and Pagano led the 2011 group to an impressive No. 3 overall defensive ranking and the AFC championship.
Adam Schefter reported Sunday that Lewis is planning to leave the Bengals after 15 years "to pursue opportunities elsewhere." However, Lewis dismissed the report to the team's website, saying he has not made any decisions.
For Pagano, who is in his sixth year as the Colts head coach, there has been speculation all year that he could be let go at the end of the season. He was asked last week what it's like to have an uncertain future.
"You know what you got into," Pagano said, per The Indianapolis Star. "It's all I've known forever. The shelf life for these jobs is not long. So you embrace every single opportunity, every single day, every single game. To get to go to practice with these guys and grind and work and compete and go play games, it's a blessing. You can't sit and worry about it. I'm good."* *
Ravens' Road Record Put Them in Playoff Position
Baltimore still has two games left to play, but they've already wrapped up their regular-season road schedule with a solid 4-4 record.
Teams will often say that the formula for a postseason berth is to take care of business at home and split games on the road. The Ravens accomplished one of those goals already, and it's a big reason why they're in playoff contention.
It's just the second time in five years that Baltimore finished with at least a .500 winning percentage away from M&T Bank Stadium. The team finished 2-6 on the road in each of the last two years.
"Bad road losses have contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs in recent years, but they've managed to avoid those this year," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "In 2013, upset defeats at Buffalo and Cleveland contributed to a 2-6 road record and an 8-8 finish. Last year, it was an ugly loss to an eventual 5-11 New York Jets team in October that contributed to the Ravens having no margin for error while facing a brutal December schedule.
"Say what you want about a team lacking a signature win against a projected playoff team, but the Ravens have only one bad loss — the Week 6 tilt against Chicago — on their résumé. Since mid-October, they've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat."
The Ravens' improved* *performance on the road is a big plus considering that if they make the playoffs, they'll be in enemy territory for as long as they advance.
Quarterback Tom Brady holds the record for most overall playoff wins at 25, which were largely played at home because New England frequently wins home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by finishing atop the AFC in the regular season.
But Joe Flacco holds the record for the most postseason wins on the road with seven. Those seven road wins are also the most (tied) for any head coach in NFL history. Harbaugh ties Tom Landry and Tom Coughlin on the top of that list.
Taking a Wait-and-See Approach With Za'Darius Smith's Future
Ravens outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has people buzzing after his sack-strip of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer that led to a defensive touchdown Sunday.
The big play was a prime example of the pressure Baltimore missed out on the week before when it took on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Smith was sidelined by a shoulder injury). It's also why fans are already asking whether the Ravens will try to keep him in Baltimore when his rookie contract expires.
The concern some fans have is Smith becoming another mid-round talent that the Ravens developed, and then seeing him leave for a big payday elsewhere. That said, Smith is still under contract in 2018, and will become an unrestricted free agent in March 2019.
- Ravens Owners Steve Bisciotti on the passing of M&T Bank CEO Robert Wilmers: "Robert Wilmers was an exceptional and honorable person and we were sad to learn this weekend of his passing," Bisciotti said. "He did so much for the Baltimore area community, bringing M&T Bank here, employing thousands in the state, and committing to make this area a better place for all of us. It would be difficult to find a person and company that invested so much. His legacy will include his outstanding business acumen and prowess, but it will also include how much he impacted those in need. Bob and his family are in our thoughts and prayers."
- Ravens Photographer Shawn Hubbard won a 2017 Libris Iconic Images award from Photoshelter with this stunning moment captured of rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey before the Cleveland Browns game at M&T Bank Stadium earlier this season. "The image is a closer look at the blood, sweat and tears on the field that make the NFL so compelling to millions of fans," the website wrote.