When I say root for, I don't mean permanently, I mean in the Week 13 game Steelers at Patriots. Ravens fans have quite the conundrum this week. Our arch-rivals (Steelers) and another team we just don't like as non-New England residents (Patriots) are playing in Foxboro this weekend. The Ravens are competing with both of these teams for a playoff spot and unfortunately both can't lose*. So who am I supposed to root for?
*A tie could be the answer to my dilemma, but how likely is that?
Steelers lead the division a game over the Ravens right now, so a Ravens victory this weekend and a Steelers loss would tie up the W-L records; however, Pittsburgh still has that win against the Ravens right now. In three weeks, that could be tied up, though. Ravens-Steelers is always a good game, but the home team usually wins.
On the other hand, if Ravens don't win the division, then their biggest competition for a Playoff spot is the Patriots. Colts aren't really competiting for a wildcard spot, they're pretty much in. They don't have an overly difficult schedule and they have head-to-head wins over the Ravens and Patriots. Dolphins could be a threat with their powdepuff schedule, but the loss this past weekend killed their momentum and they still have to play the Jets in the last week. Unfortunately, the Patriots have a very manageable schedule for the remainder of the year.
If Steelers lost, Steelers and Patriots would both go to 8-4 after 12 weeks. If Baltimore beats Cincy, they too would be 8-4. What's next for the Steelers? Dallas, Baltimore, Tennessee, Cleveland. Steelers could win all 4 of those games or lose all four. Cleveland is a big unknown becuase Quinn is out and Anderson is back in, plus, they'd love nothing more than to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs. Look back at last year, Baltimore vs Pittsburgh...Pittsburgh was playing to get the higher seed so they didn't have to play Jacksonville and Baltimore was sitting at a disappointing 4-11. Pittsburgh lost. They get to host Dallas, so Pittsburgh has the edge of having a home game in December. The next week, they go to Baltimore. Everyone and their mother knows this game could make or break the season. The crowd at M&T Bank Stadium will be viscious (I NEED TO FIND TICKETS!!!). This game could be on the same magnitude as the playoff game a couple years ago when the Colts came to Baltimore. After that brutal game, Pittsburgh goes to Tennessee to play another top-defense and the probable #1 AFC seed. Tennessee will be coming off three relatively easy games, where Pittsburgh will be coming off Patriots, Cowboys, and Ravens. Titans will be a much fresher, healthier team. Steelers: not so much. They can hopefully breathe a little in the last game of the season against the Browns, but then again, who knows. Steelers are looking at a very hard schedule and would be lucky to go 2-2 in that stretch, leaving Pittsburgh at 11-5 or 10-6 most likely.
If Steelers win, Steelers go up 9-3, Patriots down to 7-5, and again hopefully Baltimore will be 8-4. Patriots remaining schedule is at Seattle, at Oakland, vs. Arizona, and at Buffalo. They should be able to handle the Seahawks and Raiders with ease. Arizona could put up a fight, but they'll be playing Foxboro...a little different from their usual digs. Buffalo is probably the Patriots' biggest threat becuase they'll be bitter and want to play spoiler. Who's got worse weather than Boston? Buffalo. Playing in December isn't really an issue for either of these teams. Patriots will probably have to play this game fully to either keep their playoff hopes alive or get a better seeding. They could potentially be going into this game with 10 or 11 wins, at least 9. Beating the Steelers this weekend would put Patriots in very good shape to go to the playoffs and make beating Buffalo less necessary. New England too, will probably finish 11-5 or 10-6, but 12-4 is very possbile.
Baltimore has a tough schedule, but they're a hot team and they got their two hardest opponents out of the way (Titans, Giants). Only the Colts and Giants have had decisive wins over the Ravens. The other two losses, to the Titans and Steelers (at Pittsburgh), were very close and could have easily gone the other way if not for one or two plays/calls. This weekend they play in Cincinnati and should be able to come out of there with a fairly easy win, but it's still a division game so it can't be taken lightly. Losing this game would all but destroy the season. The next three games are very tough, vs. Washington, vs. Pittsburgh, at Dallas. After that gauntlet, they play Jacksonville. Baltimore really needs to beat Pittsburgh. No matter what else happens in the league, the most important game of the season is that Pittsburgh home game in three weeks. They need to play hard and send Pittsburgh into Tennessee tired and hurting. Beating Washington at home is also important to match Pittsburgh's performance and keep a good home field record. The best thing for Baltimore (and any team, obviously) is to win all the games, but if they're going to take a loss, Dallas might be the better team to lose too. Ravens will be tired from Washington and Pittsburgh, it's an away game and Dallas will put up a fight to win their last home game of the season and in that stadium. Dallas is a good team and a lot better with Tony Romo and they're probably only going to get better. If the Ravens fall behind, mounting a huge comeback may waste unnecessary energy and risk injury. Going home healthy to make sure they can beat Jacksonville is important. Jaguars haven't performed up how they were expected too, but that doesn't mean they're a given win. For tie breakers, the home field record is important. Baltimore can only really afford 1 loss, 2 if Pittsburgh and/or Patriots lose unexpectedly. One loss would leave the Ravens at 11-5 and in good position to take the division or a wildcard spot should either Steelers or Patriots faulter. Of course, 12-4 sure would be better.
Note: All three of these teams could potentially go 12-4 and so could the Colts, so we could see a 12-4 team not make the playoffs while a team from the West with a 9-7 record could be a #4 seed. Rediculousness.
I think I'll be rooting for the Patriots this weekend. With the Steelers' difficult remaining schedule and Patriots lack there of, I think a shot at the division is more likely than beating out am AFC East team for a wildcard. Someone from that division is getting a wildcard spot. Plus, it's really hard to root for the Steelers. Painfully hard.
So, go Pats!!! Then the following week I can return to the normal rooting against both of those teams...