BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 24: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24. 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 16-6. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
After defeating the 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens probably have the AFC North all wrapped up.
Despite defeating the PIttsburgh Steelers twice this season, the Baltimore Ravens kept their division rivals in the hunt for the AFC North crown longer than they should have with inexplicable losses to the lowly Seattle Seahawks and the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, with a convincing win over the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving evening, Baltimore may be on their way to securing a first-round playoff bye.
The combined record of the Ravens' remaining five opponents is 18-32. Granted, that's weighted heavily, thanks to the embarrassing Indianapolis Colts, who will likely record a winless season. But still, it's difficult to imagine Baltimore blowing it, given their remaining slate. Besting the upstart Bengals at Cincinnati in Week 17 won't be a cakewalk, but still—I expect the Ravens to go 4-1 at worst the rest of the way with an excellent chance of beating the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
While it's unlikely that the Steelers will win the division again, they should cruise to a Wild Card playoff spot. With the exception of a Week 15 meeting with the 49ers on Monday Night Football, Pittsburgh's remaining schedule is even cushier than Baltimore's; their next six opponents are averaging less than five wins a piece. Going into Sunday's matchup against the injury-riddled Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh is two games ahead of any of the other AFC Wild Card hopefuls and holds valuable tie-breakers with wins over the Bengals, Patriots, and the Tennessee Titans.
Still, the Steelers can't and won't overlook their remaining slate of foes.
So here's what we can expect about six weeks down the road, once the holiday season is in the rearview mirror and the NFL playoffs are upon us. Baltimore will be the No.1 or 2 seed, and the Ravens will be on the couch with the rest of us, watching the Steelers dispose of whoever wins the weak AFC West or—less likely—the Matt Leinart-led Texans.
It's a less than ideal situation for Pittsburgh, but with a third matchup with Baltimore in the post-season seeming like a plausible scenario ... wouldn't it be sweet to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs?