Dim View

Ravens must win, then hope for best

The Playoff Picture

December 21, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The season that got away from them still can be saved, but now the Ravens need to be more than good - they also need to be lucky.

The Ravens can win their final two games and still not qualify for the AFC playoffs. They could - if you believe the tangle of playoff scenarios - lose in Pittsburgh on Sunday and still make it. But that's the longest of long shots.

This is what the 2004 season has come to in Baltimore - a must-win grudge match against the 13-1 Steelers and a Jan. 2 date with the 3-11 Miami Dolphins.

Even if the Ravens win both, they still need help from the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans or Indianapolis Colts to beat out the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos for the sixth and final spot in the AFC bracket.

The wild-card logjam starts at 8-6, where the Ravens, Jaguars, Broncos and Buffalo Bills all are scrambling on rocky terrain.

The Bills are on the rockiest footing because of their 5-6 conference record. The Jaguars are in the most enviable position at the moment because of favorable strength of victory and strength of schedule tiebreakers. If the postseason started today, Jacksonville would be the sixth seed.

The Ravens and Broncos, both of whom have lost three of their last four games, are in no-man's land for now.

However the final two weeks shake down, the Ravens need a victory over the Steelers in Week 16 to keep alive whatever chances they have. After that, it bogs down in murky tiebreakers.

The only two-way tie the Ravens are certain to win is one with the Bills, whom they defeated on Oct. 24.

Getting past the Jaguars and Broncos involves each of those teams losing at least once in the last two weeks. The Jaguars meet the Texans this weekend and travel to Oakland in Week 17. They will be favored in both games, even though Houston beat Jacksonville earlier this season, 20-6.

The Broncos have a Christmas night game at Tennessee, then finish the regular season at home against the Colts. Assuming the Colts already will have secured their No. 3 or 4 seed as the AFC South champion, they will not have much to play for and no reason to risk their stars in Week 17.

A multiple-team tie for the last wild-card spot will not come down to common opponents because there aren't the required minimum four common opponents among the teams in question. Instead, the tie would be broken on strength of victory or strength of schedule.

Strength of victory would compare the records of the teams the Ravens have beaten against, say, the teams the Jaguars and Broncos have beaten. After 14 games, both the Ravens' and Jaguars' beaten foes are 55-57 for a .491 percentage.

Jacksonville has a tougher strength of schedule (.551) than the Ravens (.544), which is its advantage at this point. Denver, meanwhile, would not win in either of those scenarios.

This all presumes that the New York Jets, at 10-4, don't lose their final two games. Then you go back to square one.

Ravens scenarios

This is where the Ravens stand with the AFC's other 8-6 teams in tiebreaking scenarios:

BILLS:

In a two-way tie with Buffalo, the Ravens win the head-to-head tiebreaker because of their 20-6 victory on Oct. 24. To advance to the playoffs, the Bills would need to be the AFC's only 10-6 team because of a lesser conference record.

BRONCOS:

A two-way tie with the Broncos is more problematic. Because they both would have the same conference record, the common-opponents tiebreaker would apply. If Denver beats Indianapolis in Week 17, the Broncos would have the edge at 2-2 to the Ravens' 1-3.

JAGUARS:

Again, in a two-way tie, the conference records would be the same. Against common opponents, the Jaguars are 3-2. The Ravens are 2-2 against those teams, but can match the Jaguars with a win Sunday in Pittsburgh. In that event, the next tiebreaker is strength of victory and the two teams are currently tied at .491.

- Ken Murray

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