Joe Flacco still has never played a game where the Ravens did not have a chance to win the Super Bowl.
There is a reasonable chance he can extend that streak this season with another late-season playoff push.
So what will it take? I’m going to focus only on the Ravens’ chance to win the division, because the AFC Wild Card race is very competitive and it’s unlikely the Ravens will play well enough to win a Wild Card without winning the division.
If we make the assumption there will be no more ties in the division this season, tiebreaker mechanics are highly simplified:
–The Ravens need only be concerned about 2-way ties with the Steelers for the division.
–To win the division, the Ravens will need to have a record at least 1 game behind the Bengals the remainder of the way.
To break a 2-way tie in division, the tiebreakers are, in order:
–Head to Head (HTH) is the first tiebreaker. The Ravens won the first matchup, so they can’t lose this tiebreaker, but the easiest path to the division championship may include a win in Pittsburgh in Week 16.
–Division Record: The Ravens have a paper advantage with a 3-0 record in division while the Steelers are just 1-1. However, if the Ravens don’t win the HTH tiebreaker, this is the Ravens’ possible Achilles. If they win both games versus Cincinnati, they will do no worse than tie, but that is a tall order. An upset by the Browns or Cincinnati holding serve at home versus the Steelers in Week 15 may be essential to keeping the Ravens alive past this tiebreaker.
–Common Opponents: The best way to analyze this is to look at uncommon opponents, because there are only 2 each. Another way to state this tiebreaker is that the team that loses the uncommon opponent tiebreaker wins the division. The Ravens are 1-1 versus Jacksonville and Oakland. The Steelers beat Kansas City and will play Indianapolis. If they beat Indy in Week 12, they will lose this tiebreaker to the Ravens.
–Conference Record: With the Ravens fighting for a Wild Card in past seasons, conference wins have been at a premium. That does not appear to be an issue for 2016. Similar to common opponents (see above), the Ravens need to finish with a worse record than the Steelers vs. the NFC East to take this tiebreaker. The Ravens are currently 0-2 vs. the NFC East (Dal, Phi remaining) and the Steelers are 1-2 (NYG remaining). It’s unlikely this tiebreaker will be needed, so all nonconference games are important this season. However, if the Ravens lose this tiebreaker, it means they have 2 more wins and Pittsburgh has 1 more loss.
–Strength of Victory: The Ravens are in trouble if this becomes the tiebreaker in question. The Steelers have a 6-game lead in SoV wins (16-10), but they still play the Browns twice. However, by definition, the Ravens will have 1 fewer victory to add to their total if this tiebreaker becomes important. The Ravens best chance to get back in competition for this tiebreaker is to beat Dallas. I estimate the chance SoV is required as a tiebreaker at less than 2%.
Here are 2 specific scenarios which represent a significant portion of the likelihood the Ravens win the division:
Scenario 1: The Ravens finish with 9 wins (4-3 the rest of the season) and beat Pittsburgh on Christmas day:
–The Steelers will need to go 6-0 in their other games to finish ahead of the Ravens.
–The Bengals will need to go 6-1 in their other games to finish 9-6-1 and finish ahead of the Ravens.
Scenario 2: The Ravens finish with 9 wins (4-3 the rest of the season) and lose to Pittsburgh on Christmas day, but beat Cincinnati twice:
–The Steelers do not benefit from a win versus Indianapolis, which would cause them to lose the common opponents tiebreaker. They would need to go 5-0 in their other games (@Cle, NYG, @Buf, @Cin, Cle) to finish ahead of the Ravens.
–The Bengals are out.
Tiebreakers analysis is fraught with the possibility of error. Please comment below if you think you see something. I’ll review.