Imagine the Possibilities

With one week remaining in the 2002 season, playoff participation is a remote chance at best for the Baltimore Ravens. With 19 rookies and first year players on the roster, the mere fact that the possibility exists speaks volumes for a team just two years removed from winning the NFL title. It seems as if the entire AFC will battle for a spot in this year's post-season this weekend.

In fact, only the Bills, Texans, Bengals and Jaguars are out of the competition.  The rest of the Conference will have to wait until about 7:30 Sunday night to know who's in and who's out.

Most teams have a myriad of scenarios that will affect whether they are in or out of the playoffs.  Whether they are home or away.  Whether they get a bye or no bye.   For the Ravens, there exists only one scenario in which they will find themselves preparing for a game on the first weekend in January as opposed to heading home.

The Ravens must, of course, win in PittsburghNew England, the Jets, Cleveland, Denver, San Diego and Kansas City must all lose.  It soundsnearly impossible.  But the fact that the Ravens could have controlled their own playoff destiny by beating Cleveland last week (regardless of whether the Steelers lost in Tampa on Monday night) seemed impossible too.  Then San Diego, Denver and New England all lost.  That helped set up this week's predicament where the Ravens will try to be one of the few teams in modern league history to enter the playoffs as a .500 team.

With the daunting task of winning in Pittsburgh against a team trying to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs not withstanding, a closer look at the other six games where the Ravens have interest may be in order.

New England (8-7) hosts the Dolphins (9-6).  Miami must win for the Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots will miss the playoffs with a loss.  At the same time, both teams are playing to win the AFC East.  Miami beat the Patriots 26-13 in Week 5.  From the Ravens' angle, these aren't your fathers Dolphins.  Gone is the gun-slinging Dan Marino.  The Dolphins
win with the gritty running Ricky Williams and ingenuity of Jay Fiedler, a must for December in New England.   Statistically, the Dolphins lead New England in almost every category.  If not for last weeks bad loss in Minnesota, the Dolphins would surely be favored in this one instead of being listed as a pick.

The Jets (8-7) host the Packers (12-3).  Green Bay must win for the Ravens. This is another favorable match-up for Baltimore.  The Packers lead in most statistical categories but the Jets are one of the hotter teams in the league.  They started 2-5 but have won 6 of their last 8.   A loss at Chicago two weeks ago, however, could signal some vulnerability that Packer quarterback Bret Favre should be able to exploit.  Favre is looking to stake his claim to a third league MVP award.

San Diego (8-7) hosts the Seahawks (6-9).  The Chargers must lose.  Don't let the record fool you.  Seattle has made strides recently.  They have won 3 of their last five with losses only to San Francisco and Philadelphia.  Seattle started 1-5.  Conversely, San Diego has lost 6 of 8 and the last three in a row.  The Chargers receive only the obligatory 3 points for being at home from the odds makers who see this one as an even matchup.

The Browns (8-7) host Atlanta (9-5-1).  Atlanta must win.  The Falcons have not lost in their three games versus the AFC North teams.  They look to complete the undefeated trek in Cleveland.  Anyone who has watched Mike Vick knows he can put the team on his back and win.  The guess is that it will come down to the wire as every Browns game does. Ravens fans can only hope that Tim Couch waves bye-bye to his own playoff hopes as he leaves the field this Sunday as he waved to Ravens fans in Baltimore last week.

Denver (8-7) hosts Arizona (5-7).  Arizona must pull the upset.  Possibly the tallest order on the docket but Denver starts a new quarterback for the season's final Sunday.  When Denver was 3-0, they looked like a Super Bowl contender.  The Monday Night smack-down administered by the Ravens in Week 4 exposed the Broncos, losers of 5 of their last 7.  Arizona has been
respectable since the 49-0 dusting by the Chiefs on December 1.  In what could be the last hurrah for Jake Plummer as a Cardinal, Baltimore is hoping it is a grand exit.

Kansas City (8-7) at Oakland (10-5).  The Raiders must win.  This Saturday evening contest could render next day useless for Ravens fans.  If the Chiefs stun the Raiders (who look to seal home field advantage in the AFC), the Ravens and their fans would be eliminated before even getting the chance to pray at Sunday services. Speaking of prayer, The Chiefs will be without star running back and former Raven Priest Holmes.  Oakland is 10-1 excluding a mid-season 4 game swoon which included two overtime losses.  Baltimore needs the Raiders to repay them for ruining Christmas 1977 and at least make Sunday morning interesting.

Can it all happen for the Ravens?  Probably not.  But imagine the possibilities.

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