Playoff picture getting clearer for Ravens

Playoff picture getting clearer for Ravens
November 26, 2012, 4:30 am
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With Thanksgiving behind us and December nearly here, the playoff picture is starting to get a lot clearer, and the Ravens have to like the looks of it.

After their come-from-behind, 16-13 overtime win at San Diego, coupled with the Steelers' loss at Cleveland, the Ravens (9-2) hold a three-game lead in the AFC North with five games to play.

The Ravens face the Steelers (6-5) again Sunday and can pretty much put a stranglehold on their second straight AFC North title with a win.

The Bengals (6-5) are suddenly tied with the Steelers for second place in the AFC North, but they still have yet to show they belong; they have one win over a team with a winning record, and are 0-6 against the Ravens and Steelers in the past two years. They will face those two teams to close the season, and that could determine whether they return to the playoffs.

As of now, the Ravens hold the No. 2 seed behind 10-1 Houston, which also holds any tiebreaker over the Ravens by virtue of their 43-13 drubbing of the Ravens.

That would give the Ravens a first-round bye and a home game in the Divisional Round, just as they had last season.

New England and Denver are both 8-3, and the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the Patriots thanks to their 31-30 win over New England in September. The Ravens host Denver on Dec. 16 in a game that could determine the AFC's No. 2 seed.

The surprising, resurgent Colts (7-4) would also return to the playoffs if the season ended today, with the Bengals and Steelers possibly fighting for the sixth and final playoff spot. San Diego's postseason hopes -- and Norv Turner's future there -- likely flew away when Justin Tucker's game-winner went through the uprights and sent the Chargers to 4-7 with their sixth loss in seven games.

The Dolphins (5-6) are just a game behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in an AFC that is looking incredibly ordinary.

Either way, the Ravens are well positioned for the AFC North title and at least one home game, no small factor given that the Ravens have won a league-best 15 straight home games.