What’s at stake tonight in Detroit

Naturally in today’s NFL, you get to the final three weeks of the season and the games mean a lot more to a number of teams.

Tonight’s visit to Detroit is especially important for the Ravens after the way this week’s games have unfolded.

The key decisions were the Dolphins’ victory over the Patriots and the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers. The Chargers’ win over the Broncos could also turn out to be a big one.

First, let’s look at the standings and then examine how tonight’s game could affect the Ravens:

1. Broncos 11-3 *
2. Patriots 10-4 *
3. Bengals 9-5 *
4. Colts 9-5 *
5. Chiefs 11-3
6. Dolphins 8-6
7. Ravens 7-6
8. Chargers 7-7
9. Steelers 6-8
10. Jets 6-8
*- division leaders

The Dolphins’ win Sunday did two things that affect Baltimore: It gave Miami control of the AFC’s second wild card entering tonight and also put the Patriots within within the Ravens’ reach.

So, even after Baltimore’s 4-6 start, it still has a chance to claim the conference’s second seed with three games to go.

The Ravens need to win tonight to move back into the driver’s seat and ahead of the Dolphins for the AFC’s sixth seed. It will also keep the Ravens ahead of the Chargers, who are a game back at 7-7.

Winning the AFC North could also be made a lot more realistic with a victory after the Bengals slipped to 9-5 Sunday. If Baltimore wins, it will be within one game of first-place Cincinnati. Of course, with the Ravens playing the Patriots next week, it might be tough to maintain that margin. But if Baltimore is a game behind or tied with the Bengals going into the season finale in Cincinnati, that contest will be for the division crown.

The Ravens are now in control of winning the division, as they will take first in the AFC North if they win their last three games.

And if the Ravens can win the division, a home playoff game is still a possibility because of New England’s loss Sunday. If the Ravens win their last three contests and the Patriots lose their next two, Baltimore takes the conference’s second seed by virtue of a win over New England in Week 16.

That would mark quite the comeback from the “state of emergency” start to the season. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s all still there for the taking.

So does tonight’s game mean much? You betcha.