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Ravens Insider: NFL playoff picture: Ravens can secure AFC’s top seed with win over Dolphins


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For the Ravens, the path to the first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs is clear: Beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

The New Year’s Eve clash between the conference’s top two teams will likely decide who takes the top seed, though the Ravens can still secure the No. 1 spot with a loss if they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers next week and the Dolphins lose to the Buffalo Bills.

While the Ravens have a playoff berth secured and seem all but assured of hosting at least one playoff game, the Cleveland Browns could still steal the AFC North title — their first division championship since 1989 — if they win out against the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals and the Ravens lose their final two games. That would put the Ravens on the road for wild-card weekend as the likely No. 5 seed in the seven-team AFC field.

Here’s a look at the AFC playoff picture if the regular season ended today, plus odds via The New York Times’ simulator:

1. Ravens (12-3, 1st in AFC North)

Remaining schedule: vs. Dolphins, vs. Steelers

Playoff berth: Clinched

Division title: 98%

First-round bye: 77%

What’s working: With quarterback Lamar Jackson the betting favorite to win his second NFL Most Valuable Player Award and the defense coming off a brilliant performance against San Francisco in which it recorded five interceptions, the Ravens look like the most complete team in the NFL. No other team has shown an ability to completely dismantle a strong opponent the way the Ravens have.

What isn’t: If there’s a nit to pick with the Ravens, it’s their run defense, which ranks 22nd in the league allowing 4.4 yards per carry. Christian McCaffrey ran for 103 yards on just 14 carries Monday and might have done more damage if the 49ers didn’t fall behind by two touchdowns early in the second half.

2. Miami Dolphins (11-4, 1st in AFC East)

Remaining schedule: at Ravens, vs. Bills

Playoff berth: Clinched

Division title: 76%

First-round bye: 22%

What’s working: Confidence should be at an all-time high after the Dolphins finally earned a victory over a team with a winning record by beating the Cowboys on a last-second field goal. With an effective running game and an above-average defense, Miami has proved it’s capable of winning with more than just offense.

What isn’t: With Jaylen Waddle now dealing with a high ankle injury and Tyreek Hill still limited by his own ankle problems, the Dolphins’ receiving depth is being tested. Tight end Durham Smythe is third on the team with just 29 receptions this season, so Miami needs its top receivers healthy to have any hope of making a playoff run. The first-round bye would do wonders for this team.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-6, 1st in AFC West)

Remaining schedule: vs. Bengals, at Chargers

Playoff berth: 98%

Division title: 97%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: The Chiefs’ defense has been among the league’s best this season and is certainly not to blame for the team’s recent struggles, having given up more than 21 points just once in the past seven games. Kansas City didn’t allow the Raiders to complete a pass after the first quarter in Monday’s loss to the Raiders.

What isn’t: It’s strange to say for a team with Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, but the mistake-filled offense has been a major disappointment during the second half of the season. According to ESPN, the Chiefs have more dropped passes (34) than any team in the NFL, are tied for the most offensive penalties (56) and rank sixth in turnovers (26).

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7, 1st in AFC South)

Remaining schedule: vs. Panthers, at Titans

Playoff berth: 74%

Division title: 60%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: Amid a four-game losing streak, tight end Evan Engram has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. The former Giants first-round draft pick has nine or more receptions in three of his past four games, including 10 catches for 95 yards in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay.

What isn’t: Injuries and turnovers have derailed the offense of late. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw two interceptions and lost a fumble before exiting Sunday with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder that could keep him out for the first time in his high school, college or pro career. Wide receiver Zay Jones and right tackle Anton Harrison are also banged up.

5. Cleveland Browns (10-5, 2nd in AFC North)

Remaining schedule: vs. Jets, at Bengals

Playoff berth: Greater than 99%

Division title: 2%

First-round bye: 1%

What’s working: An offense that ranked among the league’s worst for most of the season has been reinvigorated by veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, who has 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions while going 3-1 as the starter. That boom-or-bust approach has been effective, especially for wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had 11 catches for a franchise-record 265 yards and two scores in Sunday’s win over Houston.

What isn’t: Special teams could be a problem after kicker Dustin Hopkins suffered a hamstring injury and was ruled out for Thursday’s game against the Jets. Punter Corey Bojoroquez is also dealing with a quadriceps injury, forcing Cleveland to make contingency plans as it closes in on its second playoff berth since 2002.

6. Buffalo Bills (8-6, 2nd in AFC East)

Remaining schedule: vs. Patriots, at Dolphins

Playoff berth: 89%

Division title: 24%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: The defense has been much better since its Week 13 bye, holding the Chargers to 4.2 yards per play and 4-for-14 on third down a week after smothering Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. The pass rush also came to life against Los Angeles, recording five sacks after racking up six in the previous three games combined.

What isn’t: A fumble by running back James Cook in the fourth quarter Saturday nearly gave the game away as the Bills had to sweat out another close game — their 10th decided by one score. Consistency has been a problem on offense all season, though quarterback Josh Allen has been able to make up for it.

7. Indianapolis Colts (8-7, 2nd in AFC South)

Remaining schedule: vs. Raiders, vs. Texans

Playoff berth: 54%

Division title: 24%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: The Colts had been feasting on turnovers, recording at least one in 19 straight games before that streak ended in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. Now starting safety Julion Blackmon, who leads the team with four interceptions, is on injured reserve, putting a bigger strain on the defense.

What isn’t: While the offense and defense have both been able to hover around league average most of this season, the special teams have dipped to 29th in DVOA. Indianapolis ranks near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage at .794.

8. Houston Texans (8-7, 3rd in AFC South)

Remaining schedule: vs. Titans, at Colts

Playoff berth: 34%

Division title: 15%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: The offense unsurprisingly took a nosedive with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud out two games with a concussion. The likely return of Stroud this week will help, especially for wide receiver Nico Collins, who has just five catches for 31 yards with Case Keenum and Davis Mills throwing the ball.

What isn’t: Injuries to defensive ends Will Anderson Jr. and Jonathan Greenard have hurt the defense, especially against the pass. A week after sacking Will Levis seven times, they couldn’t bring down Joe Flacco at all as he threw for 368 yards.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7, 4th in AFC North)

Remaining schedule: at Seahawks, at Ravens

Playoff berth: 12%

Division title: 0%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: Steelers fans started chanting the name of third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph in Sunday’s win over the Bengals as he threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh needed a jolt as the season started slipping away, and now Rudolph has a chance to keep the momentum going against Seattle.

What isn’t: The running game has been ineffective for most of the season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and recording nearly as many fumbles (11) as touchdowns (12), though just two of those fumbles were lost.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (8-7, 3rd in AFC North)

Remaining schedule: at Chiefs, vs. Browns

Playoff berth: 19%

Division title: 0%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: Tee Higgins has certainly proved he’s capable of being a No. 1 wide receiver, catching five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown Saturday with Ja’Marr Chase out again. If he doesn’t earn the franchise tag from the Bengals, he’ll be the most sought-after receiver in free agency.

What isn’t: Backup quarterback Jake Browning needs to play better than he has against the Steelers, having thrown four interceptions in two starts against the division rivals. The Bengals need to win out to have any hope of making the playoffs, and Browning needs to avoid turnovers to help make that happen.

11. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8, 2nd in AFC West)

Remaining schedule: at Colts, vs. Broncos

Playoff berth: 15%

Division title: 1%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: The defense has risen to No. 8 in DVOA after sacking Patrick Mahomes four times and holding the Chiefs to 4.2 yards per play on Christmas Day. Defensive end Malcolm Koonce has emerged as a key playmaker opposite star pass rusher Maxx Crosby.

What isn’t: Aidan O’Connell might be a long-term backup, but he doesn’t look like the answer at quarterback. He went 9-for-21 for just 62 yards Monday and has not been very consistent, alternating big games with poor performances.

12. Denver Broncos (7-8, 3rd in AFC West)

Remaining schedule: vs. Chargers, at Raiders

Playoff berth: 6%

Division title: 2%

First-round bye: 0%

What’s working: Russell Wilson ranks near the top of the league in several passing categories, but struggles in the red zone and on third down have led to a quarterback change. Backup Jarrett Stidham will start against the Chargers, perhaps signaling the end of Wilson’s rocky tenure in Denver.

What isn’t: Wilson has received very little help from a running game that has averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry over the past four games. Javonte Williams has just 3.6 yards per carry and two touchdowns this season, with the rebuilt offensive line proving to be a disappointment.

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