» Joe Flacco still is capable of making a handful of throws every game that other quarterbacks can't make. He's also capable of stringing together a hot month of play, and he's put together two quality games in a row. The Ravens are finding an identity with their vertical passes.
» The Ravens' defense is very good. It's not like it was a decade ago, but it's definitely as good as it was one season ago. Probably better.
» I still believe in the quaint notion that it's hard to knock out the defending champion. This isn't a great Ravens team, and its lucky the conference is terribly mediocre. But the team has enough title DNA left in the building to win three of its final four games and make the playoffs.
Here are the other big takeaways from the AFC playoff picture after Week 13:
The Chiefs are locked into the No. 5 seed
Kansas City's offense has played its best during the team's three-game losing streak. That probably doesn't matter in the long run, because this squad isn't built to win shootouts. But it could help them win a wild-card game on the road, if needed.
That scenario virtually is guaranteed now. At 9-3, the Chiefs need Denver to lose twice to have any chance of regaining the lead in the AFC West. That's not going to happen. Kansas City has a three-game lead on Baltimore for the No. 6 seed. It would be shocking if Kansas City is not opening the playoffs on the road against the AFC's worst division winner.
That game probably will be the Saturday afternoon NBC game against ...
Colts and Bengals make the AFC less interesting
Indianapolis and Cincinnati both beat lower level playoff hopefuls in Week 13, turning the volume down on divisional drama in the conference. The Colts have all but won the AFC South because of their 8-4 record after beating the Titans. The Bengals' win over San Diego puts the Chargers in a tough spot, and creates a big uphill battle for the Ravens to catch up to Cincinnati in the AFC North.
The Colts head out on the road to face the Bengals this week in a big game that, for some reason, doesn't feel like that big of a game. The winner will remain right in the mix with New England for a potential playoff bye. The loser has almost no shot at a bye and most likely is heading for the No. 4 seed.
Denver is heavy favorite for No. 1 seed
But Denver's toughest game left is a home contest against San Diego. The Broncos have been extremely consistent this season, with their two losses coming on the road against quality opponents. They are in great shape for home-field advantage.
A Fork-Off special?
Every week on the "Around The League Podcast," we stick a fork in the playoff hopes of another team. (Or three.) This week's Miami-Pittsburgh matchup feels like a game in which the loser is done. We call that a fork-off. Pittsburgh can't afford an eighth loss. The Dolphins would fall to 6-7 if they came up short, which would give them crucial head-to-head losses to the Ravens and Steelers.
Looking ahead to Week 14
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals: The loser virtually has no shot at a playoff bye.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: Nine (wins) is the magic number in the AFC. This is a must-win for Pittsburgh.
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos: Break out your cold-weather Manning stories again.