Ravens fans’ Week 16 AFC Wild Card rooting guide originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Ravens continued their winning ways in Week 15 with an easy 40-14 home win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their Week 16 opponent is an upgrade over Jacksonville, but not by much – the Giants are just 5-9 on the season.
New York will be getting its starting quarterback back on the field, as reports surfaced Saturday that the injured Daniel Jones would be ready to return against Baltimore. The Ravens are still double-digit favorites, but it won’t be quite the cakewalk matchup some fans hoped for. The Ravens will need to show up and continue to play well if they are going to come away with a win.
Unfortunately for fans in Baltimore, the Ravens still need to rely on help from around the NFL if they are going to make the postseason. Even if they win out and finish 11-5, they don’t control their own destiny. And they got zero help in Week 15.
So, outside of the Ravens themselves, who should fans in Baltimore be rooting for in Week 16? Here’s every game with potential playoff ramifications in Charm City.
Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7) – Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
The first game Ravens fans need to pay attention to is also the most likely to go their way – the Dolphins are facing the Raiders in prime time, and Las Vegas is still fighting for its own playoff livelihood, which should make for a compelling matchup.
The Raiders are strong offensively and poised to return starting quarterback Derek Carr, while the Miami defense has excelled in its second season under head coach Brian Flores. Both teams have been fun surprises in 2020, to varying degrees, but the Dolphins have been the clearly better team as of late.
The Ravens’ best chance of sneaking into the postseason picture remains a Miami loss, as they would be able to avoid any tiebreaker scenarios if they finish with 11 wins to Miami’s 10 or 9. And while the Ravens are assuming they’ll need to win out to make the postseason, a Miami loss actually helps them even more than any other teams – based on conference record, if the Dolphins lose either of their final two games, the Ravens can actually lose to the Giants and still make the playoffs with a win in Week 17 against the lowly Bengals.
There are a lot of moving parts for a potential Week 17 playoff picture, but the simplest thing for this week is to root as hard as possible for the Raiders to upset the Dolphins on Saturday night.
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) – Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ravens fans are now in the unfamiliar position of having to root for the Steelers to win at least one of their final two games. Two of the teams Baltimore can surpass with a loss – combined with a Ravens win, of course – are the Colts and Browns, who just so happen to be Pittsburgh’s final two opponents.
That starts Sunday with one of the better games on the schedule. The Colts are playing well right now, and the Steelers are floundering with a three-game losing streak after starting the season 11-0, but this is still expected to be a tough matchup for both sides.
The Steelers defense is still one of the league’s elite units, and they should have the ability to slow down the Colts. The question, as always, is if they have the offensive firepower to support their stingy defense. And against a great Colts defense, that won’t be easy.
It may be a tough pill to swallow, but since the Ravens have no chance of winning the AFC North, there’s only one answer for who to root for this week. And it’s the team in black and yellow.
Cleveland Browns (10-4) at New York Jets (1-13) – Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Browns are, of course, the least likely team to lose on Sunday, probably across the entire NFL. Not only is Cleveland playing really well as Baker Mayfield has taken a late-season leap, but they are facing the worst team in the NFL in the New York Jets.
Having said that, the Jets shocked the world by beating the Los Angeles Rams just last week, and the Rams are arguably better than the Browns. In other words, anything is possible.
But in all likelihood, if the Ravens’ postseason chances come down to whether or not the Browns take another loss, Week 17 against the Steelers is the most likely time. Still, for the sake of being thorough, we’ll include this highly unlikely outcome – definitely root for the Jets to pull off a second straight upset on Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee Titans (10-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-3) – Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
The Ravens can overtake the Colts, Dolphins and Browns with just one loss in any of their final two games, thanks to their head to head tiebreakers over the Colts and Browns and a potential better record than the Dolphins. But to beat the Titans, the Ravens will need help in both of the season’s final two weeks.
The Titans hold the tiebreaker over Baltimore, so they need to lose twice for the Ravens to surpass them. That starts Sunday night, with Tennessee’s most difficult remaining matchup – on the road against Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
It’s not easy to win in Green Bay in prime time in late December, but the Titans are definitely built for cold-weather football. The Packers are fighting for the top overall seed in the NFC, so they certainly have plenty to play for as well.
This game is less likely to impact the Ravens’ postseason chances, but in order to give themselves the best possible chance to punch their ticket in Week 17, the Ravens should be rooting for the Packers on Sunday Night Football.