Capturing the division title is a long shot.
But if the Ravens have perfected anything this season, it's beating the odds with a magical late run.
The Ravens (8-4) are trailing AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh (10-2) by two games with four remaining and are banking on another dramatic final act to leapfrog the Steelers for a coveted first-round bye. At this point, the Ravens hold the AFC's top wild-card spot and the fourth seed in the playoffs.
To win the franchise's first division title, the Ravens would have to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night and then need the Steelers to lose another game to fading Cleveland and Cincinnati or winless Detroit (a combined 10-26 record). If that occurs, the Ravens, who would control the tiebreaker with Pittsburgh, likely would have to win out against Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Minnesota (a combined 16-20 record).
That scenario is unlikely - but not impossible - to these fast-finishing Ravens, who have won six times in the fourth quarter this season and own an 8-0 record in December under coach Brian Billick.
"You never know. Something can always happen," quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "You're never out of it until it's done. So, it'll be interesting. The most important thing is we got to take care of what we have to do on Sunday."
Said tight end Shannon Sharpe: "We're going to try to run the table and see what happens after that. Pittsburgh is playing extremely well right now. They are definitely the team to beat in the AFC right now. Looking at their schedule, if we can't beat them, I don't know who else can."
Entering their title defense, one of Billick's top priorities was to earn a first-round bye. Although the Ravens won the Super Bowl as a wild card last season, a scheduling change has made that tougher this season.
Unlike last year, there is no week off in between the championship games and the Super Bowl. That means the wild card would have to win three straight weeks - likely twice on the road - and have no break before heading to New Orleans.
"How you're going to deal with that, that's going to be difficult," Billick said. "But that's not our concern right now.
"For us, from a strictly business standpoint, we know we have to have two of the next four. Our intention is to get all four. Although pragmatically 10 wins will get you into the playoffs, emotionally you have to take the stance that we got to sweep."
Waiting until the end has been a recent trend for the Ravens.
Their past five victories have been settled in the fourth quarter, with three of them being decided in the final 15 seconds. In this stretch where they've won five of six, the Ravens have outscored their opponents 44-21 in the fourth quarter.
So, how important has it been that the Ravens have outplayed teams in the fourth quarter?
"It's been very important considering that we haven't done a lot in the first, second and third quarters," Sharpe said. "In order for us to win ballgames, we're going to have to dominate one of those quarters in there. Hanging around for that opportunity in the fourth quarter has pretty much been our MO the whole season. The games that we've won, we've pretty much taken the game over in the fourth quarter. That's always a good sign."
The fourth quarter has been a pivotal one for the Ravens' defense. In seven of 12 games this season, the Ravens have shut out teams in that final quarter.
"That's the quarter we believe people definitely can't score," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "The whole season we've tried to make that a big thing. In the fourth quarter, when we've got a chance to win the ballgame, let's finish people."
The Ravens have been finishing games like they've been finishing seasons.
Since 1999, the Ravens have an NFL-best 8-0 record in December. Every other team has lost at least twice that month over that span.
The main reason for strong Decembers is Billick's practice regimen. Beginning in November, the Ravens don't have full-contact practices except for one padded practice during the bye week.
Reducing the hits has even won over physical fullback Sam Gash.
"It surprised me and to be honest early, and I wasn't real sure what was going on," said the second-year Raven. "After seeing the way he's done things and his effectiveness, I'm a big believer in how he coaches this team. ... By the way a lot of teams practice, it kinds of wears on them late in the season."
To overtake the Steelers, the Ravens need another fantastic finish.
"There are a lot of teams that get off to great starts. But there are very few teams that can sustain that growth come December," Sharpe said. "That's a mark of a great football team. A fast horse doesn't run long. You have to be steady and patient. Secretariat is the only one that went from start to finish. Normally, somebody comes out of the pack.
"Our thing is to sustain what we started. If we can do that, I like our chances."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line: Ravens by 3
Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper will answer readers' questions on SunSpot tomorrow, and his responses will be posted Thursday. To submit a question, log on to: http://www.sunspot.net/sharper