Playoff picture

The quarterbacks of the top four teams in the AFC playoff race (as it stands heading into this weekend): Houston's Matt Schaub, New England's Tom Brady, the Ravens' Joe Flacco and Denver's Peyton Manning.

What's left: at Washington (Sunday), vs. Denver (Dec. 16); vs. New York Giants (Dec. 23); at Cincinnati (Dec. 30)

Outlook: A case certainly could be made that none of the top AFC teams need that first-round bye and at least one home playoff game as much as the Ravens do.

The Ravens are 4-2 on the road this season, but they've yet to come close to putting together a complete game away from M&T Bank Stadium, and quarterback Joe Flacco has been particularly underwhelming on the road.

They may also have the toughest finish. They couldn't stop third-stringer Charlie Batch on Sunday, yet in their final four games, they'll face two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks (Peyton and Eli Manning), arguably the most exciting young quarterback in the NFL (Griffin III), and Andy Dalton, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and has directed his team to four straight wins.

The Ravens will need to get through that stretch with three wins, one being over the Broncos, to have a shot at that No. 2 seed and first-round bye.


What's left: at Oakland (Thursday); at Baltimore (Dec. 16); vs. Cleveland (Dec. 23); vs. Kansas City (Dec. 30)

Outlook: Peyton's Manning's Broncos are on a similar surge as the Patriots, with seven straight wins and 30 or more points scored in six of those seven games.

With so much on the line, it's very hard to envision the Broncos stubbing their toe against the likes of the Raiders, Browns and Chiefs. That means that, ultimately, their playoff seeding will probably come down to their matchup with the Ravens in two weeks.

With losses already on their resume to the Texans and Patriots, the Broncos can ill afford a loss to the Ravens. But it's probably important to remember that the Ravens haven't beaten a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team since 2001.

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