The Ravens overtook first place in the division this weekend with an upset win over the Los Angeles Chargers and a Pittsburgh Steelers loss in New Orleans. Baltimore (9-6), which has a half-game lead over Pittsburgh (8-6-1), can clinch the division and play host to a first-round playoff game by beating the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Did Pittsburgh unintentionally help provide the much-needed spark to Baltimore?
On Nov. 4, the Steelers beat the Ravens to send them into the bye on a three-game losing streak and injured starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore dropped to 4-5 and 2.5 games behind Pittsburgh.
The Ravens’ chances of winning the division at that point were 4.7 percent, according to the Football Power Index. Now, it's nearly a reality, thanks to the change at quarterback.
Jackson stepped in to go 5-1 as a starter, leading the Ravens on an unexpected comeback with an unconventional offense. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, struggled with injuries to its backfield and inconsistent kicking and has dropped four of six.
Atop the division for the first time since Oct. 14, the Ravens now move into the No. 4 seed in the AFC and would play host to the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs, if the season ended today. This would be an important achievement for Baltimore, which has hosted only two postseason games over the past 10 years.
Baltimore can even vault to the No. 2 seed in the AFC and earn a first-round bye. Here’s the scenario: The Ravens beat the Browns, the Houston Texans lose their finale (vs. Jaguars), the New England Patriots lose their finale (vs. Jets), and the Indianapolis Colts-Tennessee Titans game doesn’t end in a tie.
The Ravens, though, can be knocked out of the playoffs if they lose to the Browns, the Steelers beat the Bengals and the Texans lose. Under that scenario, Pittsburgh wins the AFC North, Indianapolis or Tennessee clinches the AFC South, and Houston slides to the No. 6 seed.
After ending the Steelers’ seven-week reign atop the division, the Ravens need to take care of business against the Browns (7-7-1), who’ve won five of their past six games and are looking for their first winning season since 2007.
Cleveland beat Baltimore earlier this season, but the Browns have swept the Ravens only twice (2001 and 2007) since coming back into the league in 1999. Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 9-1 against the Browns at home.
The Ravens’ five-year division title drought ranks as the second-longest in franchise history. The longest was when the Ravens went their first seven years of existence without winning the division.