OWINGS MILLS -- The pitched battle at the top of the AFC West division between unbeaten Kansas City and once-beaten Denver may be entertaining, but it does not bode well for the Ravens.
Because the loser of that battle will likely have a good enough record to nail down one of the two wild-card spots, Baltimore -- which comes off the bye week to play at Cleveland (4:25 p.m. Nov. 3; WJZ-TV, WIYY-FM) -- is already in a dogfight with at least five other teams for what would be the sixth and final playoff seed.
The game against the Browns is the second of three straight intradivisional games and the first of the four remaining AFC North contests for Baltimore.
"They're all linchpin games, as far as I'm concerned," head coach John Harbaugh said during his first post-bye press conference. "Every time we play, it's make or break. At the end of 16 games, we'll see where we stand.
"The [bye-week] rest is always good, to get your legs back and your body healed a little bit. It's a plus for us."
Naturally, the aforementioned wild-card scenario is contingent on the Cincinnati Bengals maintaining their 2.5-game edge against the Ravens for first place in the AFC North, as well as Cleveland and Pittsburgh not finishing above them.
But even though it may be too early to take a close look at the situation -- particularly with two Ravens-Bengals games yet to be played, as well as two Chiefs-Broncos contests -- the situation does bear a bit of scrutiny.
As things stand after eight weeks, with several teams not yet having played half their schedule, this is how the AFC looks. The top six teams make the playoffs.
Teams are listed by current seed, team, overall record, division record, conference record and their itinerary for the next three weeks:
1. Kansas City, 8-0, 1-0, 5-0: at Buffalo, BYE, at Denver
2. Cincinnati, 6-2, 1-1, 4-1: at Miami (Thursday), at Baltimore, Cleveland
3. New England, 6-2, 3-1, 3-2: Pittsburgh, BYE, at Carolina (Monday)
4. Indianapolis, 5-2, 1-0, 3-2: at Houston (Sunday night), St. Louis, at Tennessee (Thursday)
5. Denver, 7-1, 1-0, 3-1: BYE, at San Diego, Kansas City
6. San Diego, 4-3, 0-1, 2-3: at Washington, Denver, at Miami
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. New York Jets, 4-4, 2-1, 2-4: New Orleans, BYE, at Buffalo
8. Tennessee, 3-4, 0-1, 3-2: at St. Louis, Jacksonville, Indianapolis (Thursday)
9. Baltimore, 3-4, 1-1, 3-3: at Cleveland, Cincinnati, at Chicago
10. Oakland, 3-4, 1-2, 3-3: Philadelphia, at NY Giants, at Houston
11. Miami, 3-4, 0-2, 2-3: Cincinnati (Thursday), at Tampa Bay (Monday), San Diego
Lurking another half game behind those clubs are Cleveland and Buffalo, both of which are currently 3-5. The Browns have a head-to-head tiebreaker edge against the Bills, but Buffalo has a win against the Ravens.
Baltimore forged its edge against Cleveland during a Week Two, 14-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Browns could tie the season series Nov. 3, forcing those two teams to go to the division-record tiebreaker, if necessary. Tiebreakers are used to sort out order of finish no matter what positions are being disputed, from first place to last.
It may not seem this way now, given the team's inconsistent form, but the Ravens are actually in an advantageous position.
It's important to consider that they have four games left against teams above them in the conference standings (two with Cincinnati, one each with New England and the Jets) and already have a crucial tiebreaker advantage against Miami.
As devastating as the Week One blowout loss at Denver was, it might not come into play when all is said and done in December, for the Broncos already hold a four-game win-column lead against Baltimore, a margin that could render that result irrelevant.
But besides the upcoming key games with the Bengals, Patriots and Jets, four of the Ravens' next six games are at home, where they rarely lose.
Not only that, but the team has three consecutive home games scheduled (Jets, Steelers, Minnesota Vikings in late November and early December) for the first time since 2003, when the team swept Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati.
If the Ravens should end up tied for a playoff spot, clip and save the following paragraphs.
When two teams within a division are tied, the tiebreakers follow this sequence: head-to-head results, division record, common-opponents record, conference record, strength of victory percentage, strength of schedule, point-differential conference ranking, point-differential league ranking, net points against common opponents, net points during all games, net touchdowns during all games, coin toss.
When two teams from the same division are tied for a wild-card spot, the aforementioned sequence is used. If they are from different divisions, this is the sequence: head-to-head results, conference record, common-opponents record (minimum of four games), strength of victory percentage, strength of schedule, point-differential conference ranking, point-differential league ranking, net points during conference games, net points during all games, net touchdowns during all games, coin toss.