The Ravens are right on the doorstep of an 11-5 season, so long as they take care of business against a New York Giants team that they’re favored to beat by double digits and a Cincinnati Bengals team currently slated to pick third in the NFL Draft.
The problem for Baltimore is there’s an outside shot that both of those wins might not be enough.
It’s certainly on the Ravens’ minds, even if they say they can only focus on one game at a time.
“My mentality, personally, is just attack each day individually, and understand that we can only take it one game at a time,” tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “So, right now, my focus is on the Giants and going out there and playing the best game of my career, just like I try to approach it every week. Long term, we understand the playoffs are there, and getting there is important, but it’s important that we win the next game and the next game and the next game.”
The Ravens currently have an 87% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. And the only way for the Ravens to miss the playoffs with wins in the final two weeks is if the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts all win their final two games as well and the Tennessee Titans win one of their final two games.
The Dolphins finish with the Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills – a tough slate, but the Raiders’ playoff hopes are all but over and the Bills might be resting starters in Week 17. The Browns finish with the New York Jets, who are playing for the No. 1 draft pick, and Pittsburgh Steelers, who have suddenly slipped with three losses in a row. The Colts finish with the struggling Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are also in line for that coved No. 1 draft pick because they’re so bad. The Titans finish with the Green Bay Packers, likely the No. seed in the NFC, and the chaotic, unpredictable Houston Texans.
If the Ravens beat the Giants and Bengals, their playoff percentage will boost to 97 percent as they’ll need just one loss from those three teams, or two losses from the Titans.
There also exists a weird scenario where the Ravens could lose to the Giants, beat the Bengals, and still make the playoffs at 10-6 if the Dolphins lose either of their final two games. Should the Ravens beat the Giants and lose to the Bengals, they are almost certainly out of the playoffs.
“It seems like we need help from a lot of teams, but I guess I’m not really sure exactly what teams, but I do know we just have to win out to have the best shot,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I know there are certain scenarios where even if we don’t win out, but the biggest goal is just to win out.”
If the unlikely scenario unfolds and the Ravens are on their couch for the playoffs, even if they drop one of their final two games, they’ll certainly be one of the best teams in NFL history to miss the postseason party.
The last time a 10-6 team missed the playoffs was in 2015 when the Jets accomplished that inglorious feat — in the league’s current seven-team playoff format, they would have made it. The last 11-5 team to miss the playoffs was back in 2008 when the New England Patriots were left at home. Ironically, they were beaten out for the final No. 6 spot by the Ravens due to conference win percentage.
Either way, it would be one of the most unique and perplexing playoff misses in recent memory.
Before Week 16 kicks off, the Ravens have the league’s second-best point differential at +116, behind only the 13-1 Chiefs. They’re ahead of the 11-3 Steelers (+102), 10-4 Saints (+100) and 11-3 Packers (+95).
All of this could be moot in due time, as it’s supremely unlikely they’ll spend the second weekend of January at home.
But that won’t make it any easier to not glance at the out-of-town scoreboard nervously at least a few times over the final two weeks of the season.
“Being honest, we’re just going to let it take care of itself,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “We’re not focused on the outside, or other teams and stuff like that. We’re focused on ourselves, because we can’t peak too early, we can’t peak too soon at nothing right now. We’ve just got to focus on the Giants, because that’s a good team that we’re going to face on Sunday.”