The Baltimore Ravens had, by far, the easiest path of anyone in the AFC when it came to making the playoffs. All Baltimore had to do was beat the Bengals at home and they would be in the playoffs. No help from anyone else needed, just beat up on a Bengals team that appeared to have given up on the season weeks ago. And Baltimore somehow, someway, gagged away a layup look at the postseason.
It was worse, because the Bengals never should have really been back in it. Baltimore played horribly on offense for the entire first half of the game, barely moved the ball and the defense allowed them to hang around. Joe Flacco would do just enough in the second half to set the Ravens up for the win, and when the Titans took care of business against the Jaguars, it meant the Ravens and Bills were battling for the last playoff spot.
Baltimore had it. It was a done deal. And then the defense, which had a heavy investment in the offseason, couldn't seal the deal.
Ravens needed pass rush and/or big plays from secondary with all the picks and money spent on those areas. Got neither in the clutch again— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 1, 2018
It's a brutal loss, one that makes the wild-card matchups in the AFC a little less appetizing. The Chargers and Ravens were probably the two best teams in the wild-card race and neither one will make it. Instead, Buffalo and Tennessee now square off against the Jaguars and Chiefs. Good luck with that. Although John Harbaugh's next battle may be even tougher after missing the playoffs for three straight years.
Here's how the rest of the NFL playoff picture looks in visual form.
AFC: Who's in
1. (*) New England Patriots (13-3)
2. (z) Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
The Steelers rested their starters against the Browns in Week 17, with Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell, among others, not in action. The Steelers clinched the AFC North weeks ago and have clinched a bye, but needed help to get the No. 1 seed. The Patriots did not give it to them, and the Steelers will be the No. 2 seed.
3. (y) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
The Jaguars couldn't manage to score late and beat the Titans, and their offense looked lethargic for much of the Week 17 performance. The result didn't matter, as Jacksonville was locked into the No. 3 seed, but it sure isn't a good sign for the playoff hopes of the Jaguars.
4. (y) Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Chiefs clinched the AFC West before Week 17 and could not be anything other than the No. 4 seed, which is why Andy Reid started Patrick Mahomes at quarterback this week. It didn't matter, as they continued to play well despite backups in the game and beat the Broncos anyway.
5. (x) Tennessee Titans (9-7)
The Titans got just enough from Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota and had the defense limit Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense enough to keep their playoff hopes alive. Mike Mularkey may have been coaching for his job, and may have saved it with the win Sunday. The Titans head to Kansas City to try and pull off some kind of miracle against the Chiefs.
6. (x) Buffalo Bills (9-7)
The Bills managed to hang on against the Dolphins, who actually cut Buffalo's lead to six points, and then had to cross their fingers. They were done until Dalton fired that shot in there and now will be heading to Jacksonville hoping to make some magic.
AFC: Who's Eliminated
7. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)
10. Oakland Raiders (6-10)
11. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
12. Denver Broncos (5-11)
13. New York Jets (5-11)
14. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)
15. Houston Texans (4-12)
16. Cleveland Browns (0-16)
NFC: Who's in
1. (*) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
The Eagles clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a Christmas night win over the Raiders and had nothing to play for in Week 17 when they hosted the Cowboys. They lost 6-0. It was very exciting.
2. (z) Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
The Vikings let the Bears hang around but ultimately took care of business against their divisional foe and prevailed by 13 points (hello, cover!). That means Minnesota clinched the No. 2 seed and a bye in the playoffs. Their only potential travel would be to Philly in the NFC Championship Game if they keep winning.
3. (y) Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
The Rams got mashed around by the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo but it ultimately did not matter, with the Rams securing the No. 3 seed courtesy of the Saints and Panthers losing. The result will be the Falcons heading to L.A. for a wild-card matchup.
4. (y) New Orleans Saints (11-5)
The Saints dropped their game against the Buccaneers in the closing seconds, but it may turn out to be a good thing. The danger in losing was watching the Panthers take the division title, but Carolina lost as well, meaning the Saints are playing at home next week. And if both the Saints and Rams win, New Orleans will have an arguably easier test the following round by going to Philadelphia to play a lethargic Eagles team.
5. (x) Carolina Panthers (11-5)
The Panthers blew a great opportunity to steal the division by not taking care of the Falcons on the road and not showing up offensively. Cam Newton did not look good, at all. The Panthers have to be concerned about their offense heading into a playoff matchup against a team that has beaten them twice already this season.
6. (x) Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
NFC: Who's Eliminated
7. Detroit Lions (9-7)
8. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
9. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
11. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
11. Green Bay Packers (7-9)
12. Washington Redskins (7-9)
13. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
15. Chicago Bears (5-11)
16. New York Giants (3-13)
(x) - clinched playoff berth
(y) - clinched division
(z) - clinched first-round bye
(*) - clinched home-field advantage