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Ravens in First Place in AFC North, Get in With a Win


It was a great weekend for the Ravens.

They are in first place in the AFC North, and they will win the division and start the playoffs at home if they defeat the Cleveland Browns next Sunday (Dec. 30) at M&T Bank Stadium.

The New Orleans Saints gave the Ravens an early Christmas gift by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-28, in a wild finish Sunday evening.

The Ravens (9-6) hold a ½ game lead over the Steelers (8-6-1) heading into the final weekend of the regular season. If the Ravens defeat Cleveland, they will win the division for the first time since 2012, and they will start the playoffs at home as no worse than the No. 4 seed.

It's that simple for the Ravens. Beat Cleveland, and they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Ravens have put themselves in this position by winning five of their last six games, including Saturday night's impressive 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

That put extra pressure on the archrival Steelers to beat the Saints, while the Ravens could sit back and watch the Steelers and Saints play a thriller. It's been quite a flip of the script, as the Steelers were 5-2-1 after a Nov. 4 win in Baltimore, which capped a three-game losing streak for the Ravens and dropped Baltimore to 4-5.

However, Baltimore still needs to beat Cleveland to insure a playoff spot, and that won't be an easy feat. The Browns beat Baltimore, 12-9, in Cleveland in Week 5. They have gotten better since then, and won five of their last six games.

The Ravens would miss the playoffs if they lose to Cleveland, and if the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. The Ravens were in a win-and-get-in situation last year at home against the Bengals and fell on a fourth-and-12 heartbreaker to knock them out.

If the Ravens beat Cleveland, their most likely landing spot is the No. 4 seed versus the Chargers. However, it's possible for the Ravens to jump to the No. 2 seed and earn a first-round bye. For that to happen, the following scenario must play out in Week 17: Ravens defeat the Browns; Houston Texans lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars; New England Patriots lose to the New York Jets; and the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans don't play to a tie.

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