The Baltimore Ravens became the first team in the NFL yesterday to clinch a playoff berth with their victory over the Buffalo Bills, extending their record to 11-2 on the season, tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the best record in the NFL, and having won nine consecutive games.
Technically speaking, nobody else in the league, as of this writing, has guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs. Despite holding a three-game advantage with three games to play, not even the Ravens have secured the division, ahead of the 8-5 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite securing their second playoff berth in a row, something that they had not done since 2012—they made the postseason in each of John Harbaugh’s first five years, then just once over the next five—the Ravens aren’t celebrating.
This year, their standards, their expectations, are far too high to take pleasure in what is for them a rather minor achievement as a means to their ultimate end, which is a Super Bowl title. “I tried to make a big deal about it in the locker room, and the guys kind of gave me a smattering of applause”, Harbaugh said after the game. “They expected” to make the playoffs, he said. “I think they’ve earned the right to expect that”.
There is quite literally nobody playing better than the Ravens this season, who have beaten, arguably, each of the top four teams in the NFL (other than themselves, of course). Already with victories over the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks, and the 49ers, they’ve also carved out victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans as well—not to mention the Steelers.
All of those wins have come during their nine-game streak that began with their overtime victory over the Steelers, perhaps the last game in which they were really threatened much. Pittsburgh had a 23-20 lead with under a minute to play before the Ravens ultimately tied it and won it in overtime.
“Just to get in, it isn’t enough”, said veteran outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who has become their top pass-rush presence this season. “We got in last year and it wasn’t enough. This game always leaves you wanting more. You got to make it to the next stage. That’s what we’re trying to do”.
With a win next week, Baltimore would secure the AFC North for themselves, as well as a bye week, as they would own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the 9-4 Chiefs no matter what they do. A Patriots loss combined with a Ravens win would secure them homefield advantage (again, due to the head-to-head tiebreaker—with two games to play.