NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Ravens will wage a territorial battle against the Tennessee Titans today.
The stage is raucous Adelphia Coliseum, but the real territory at stake is control of the AFC Central Division.
The first-place Titans have it; the second-place Ravens don't.
Week 11 brings another opportunity for the 6-4 Ravens to show they're playoff caliber this season. At 8-1, the Titans are tied with the Oakland Raiders for best record in the AFC.
What's more, the Titans have yet to lose at 2-year-old Adelphia - a span of 12 games - and have won 21 of their past 23 AFC Central games.
A Ravens win cuts their division deficit to 1 1/2 games and greatly enhances their playoff prospects.
A Titans win virtually clinches their first division title under coach Jeff Fisher, so soft is their schedule.
It's big for both teams.
"We're 21-2 in the division since 1998, and we still have yet to win the division," Fisher said. "That's our goal. We need to keep working toward that and at the same time try to stay even or try to stay a step ahead of the Oakland Raiders."
Then there is this: If the Ravens don't win today, and do make the playoffs, they might have to return to Nashville for a postseason game."[It is] the game of the season right now for us," said Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "This game has more significance than any game we've played this year to date because No. 1, the opponent being who they are and where they stand in the AFC Central and the AFC, period, and two, us trying to make that next step to get into that group."
When these two teams met three weeks ago in Baltimore, the Titans were outplayed, but managed a 14-6 victory that ultimately cost quarterback Tony Banks his starting job.
The Ravens believe they should have won that game.
"They know it," safety Rod Woodson said of the Titans. "You'd better believe they know how good we are. They know the first game they won on the scoreboard, and that's what counts. But we're capable of beating that football team."
The Ravens are not shy about their ability to play with the Titans. Before the Week 8 game, tight end Shannon Sharpe said he was unimpressed by Tennessee. Last week, he said it again.
"No, I'm still not," he said. "They've got a very good football team. They've taken care of the football. They've done the things it takes for them to win. No disrespect.
"Obviously, they've got a very good team. They've got the best record. So obviously, they're playing the best football ... [But] can they be beat? Yes, they can be beat."
Despite the Titans' unmatched success in the AFC Central, Sharpe doesn't consider them a dominant team.
"I've won a Super Bowl," he said, "and I know what a dominant team looks like on both sides of the football. I'm conceding nothing.
"We match up very well against those guys. I'll take our defense against their offense any day. It's going to be up to us [the offense]. That's where you win or lose the game, on our side of the ball. And we're going to take that upon ourselves to win this ballgame."
What this game boils down to is field position, turnovers and whether quarterback Trent Dilfer can take advantage of the few opportunities he'll get against Tennessee's torrid defense.
The Ravens committed four turnovers the last time, one an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Their special teams gave up field position for another touchdown.
Dilfer, meanwhile, will stare into a defense that puts eight men in the box against the run and blitzes often on the pass.
"When we get the right play dialed up at the right time, we have to make it work," he said.
Dilfer passed for 244 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 27-7 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals. He consistently hurt the Bengals with the pass on first down, completing 8 of 9 passes for 68 yards.
"As a quarterback, you always want your offense to be balanced because it keeps them guessing," he said. "You've got to be able to run lead plays and [isolation] plays and zone plays against eight-man fronts to be able to get good run efficiency, just to show them that you're going to do it, to create a dominance at the line of scrimmage and to slow up pass rushers and keep them guessing."
Playing at Adelphia, with its loud crowd, is merely one more obstacle the Ravens must confront today. After losing three of their past four games, they have removed much of their margin for error.
"We've put ourselves in a predicament as a team where we can't afford to lose any more games, especially AFC games," said defensive end Michael McCrary.
"This game is extremely important. It's a tough team, a tough place. But we know we're capable of beating them."
Opponent: Tennessee Titans
Site: Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tenn.
Time: 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Titans by 3 1/2