NFL playoff picture: How Ravens can earn an AFC wild-card spot in 2020
The Ravens (7-5) still can make the AFC playoffs for a third straight season with Lamar Jackson. Baltimore isn’t close to the 14-2 team that earned the AFC’s top playoff seed in 2019, but it will gladly accept a wild-card berth with all the injury and illness issues it has had in 2020.
Going into the Week 14 Monday night game at the Browns, the Ravens are the No. 8 team in the AFC, a half-game behind the Dolphins (8-5) and a half-game ahead of the Raiders (7-6). After the Cleveland trip, the Ravens have one of the easiest finishing schedules in the NFL: vs. Jaguars (1-12), vs. Giants (5-8) and at Bengals (2-10-1).
With that all in mind, will the Ravens sneak into the AFC tournament at the bottom, a year after being on top? Here’s a breakdown of the scenarios
Ravens win out at 4-0 to finish 11-5
The Ravens are not totally guaranteed to be in by winning out, but it’s close. The Titans (9-4) and Colts (9-4) are battling for the AFC South title. Both teams have incredibly tough home games in Week 16, Tennessee at Green Bay and Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. There’s a good chance one or both end up 11-5.
The Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Colts, but they lose it to the Titans. The Dolphins play the Raiders in Week 16, in between games against Patriots and Bills.
The worst-case scenario for the Ravens at 11-5 would be the Colts winning out to get to 12-4, the Titans finishing second in the AFC South at 11-5 and Dolphins finishing second in the AFC East at 11-5. The Titans, who beat the Ravens, and the Dolphins would have 8-4 conference records. The best the Ravens can do in the conference is 7-5.
But that’s assuming two teams there win out along with the Ravens, which is a longshot based on all the schedules. Should Baltimore get past Cleveland, it by far has the most favorable path to running the table. The help required would be minimal for the Ravens to get in.
There also would be extra assurances with a tiebreaking sweep of the Browns, who could somehow stumble to 11-5 with the Giants and Steelers still left on the schedule around a Jets gimmie game.
Ravens lose to the Browns but finish 10-6
The Ravens also have a pretty good chance of getting in this way, believe it or not. The Titans are the better bets to beat out the Colts for the South because of a superior division record. With the reeling Lions and Texans being their other two opponents, the Titans should do that at 11-5. The Colts, beyond the Steelers, draw the Jaguars and Texans.
So being rather reasonable barring major upsets, the Ravens won’t be able to catch either South team at 10-6, a full game behind. Then the focus would go on the Dolphins. Miami gets New England at home in Week 15, but travels to Las Vegas and Buffalo to close the season. The up-and-down Raiders get the Chargers and Broncos around hosting the Dolphins.
Because of that Week 16 matchup, barring a tie, either the Raiders or Dolphins are guaranteed to lose once. The Raiders losing once would put them at 9-7 at best, so the 10-6 Ravens get in over them.
If the Dolphins lose that Raiders game, they would cap out at 10-6 with, at best, a 7-5 conference record. The Ravens, if they lose to the Browns, could get to only 6-6 in AFC play. But assuming the Bills have something for which to play in Week 17, the Dolphins would be considerable underdogs in that game.
The Ravens would still have a strong chance to get in behind the Browns and the AFC South runners-up in this scenario.
Ravens go 2-2 to finish 9-7
The Ravens, because of a bad conference record and holding only the clear Colts tiebreaker, would need a lot of help from other teams involving the Dolphins and Raiders to get in here. Double-digit wins give the Ravens a strong chance to make the playoffs; staying in the single digits drops those odds dramatically.
Ravens slump to 1-3 to finish 8-8
The Colts and Browns have already surpassed this win total and the Dolphins should at least hit it. This would call for the Ravens to get a major miracle of mathematics and many other teams’ equal missteps.