History says 10-6 wins for Ravens

If team can win last two, odds for playoff berth strongly in its favor

December 16, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Just when you thought the Ravens had lost control of their playoff fate, history and coach Brian Billick say otherwise.

If the Ravens win their remaining two games - in Cleveland (4-10) and home against Pittsburgh (5-9) - they will finish the regular season at 10-6, a magic number for making the playoffs.

Since the NFL expanded to a 12-team postseason format in 1990, 36 of 38 teams that reached that record have reached the playoffs. That's a 95 percent success rate.

"There's an understanding of what's in front of us," Billick said. "This team's got to believe that if we win the next two games, things will work out for us."

If the Ravens lose once to finish 9-7, the success rate plummets to 59 percent. Only 29 of 49 teams with that record since 1990 have earned a playoff spot.

That's why these last two games are virtual must-wins.

"We just need to keep focusing on the task at hand," Billick said. "We had an opportunity to not have to worry about that, but now, our play Sunday has removed that. But, we still can't get drawn into it."

NFL past notwithstanding, the Ravens' 20-12 upset loss in Oakland on Sunday has forced them to seek help in advancing to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

The Ravens (8-6), who are tied atop the AFC North with Cincinnati, need to finish ahead of the Bengals to win their first division title. If both teams win the rest of their games, Cincinnati would win the AFC North by virtue of the league's fifth tiebreaker (winning percentage of teams they have beaten).

So the Ravens' clearest path to the postseason remains capturing the division.

To become AFC North champions, they have to have one of two scenarios happen: either two Ravens wins in combination with one Cincinnati loss or at least one Ravens win in combination with two Cincinnati losses.

Should the Bengals lose in St. Louis on Sunday - a distinct possibility considering the Rams have won an NFL-best 13 straight at home - the Ravens could regain control of the division with a victory in Cleveland.

On the other hand, a Cincinnati win Sunday coupled with a Ravens loss would clinch the AFC North for the Bengals.

"We have plenty of opportunity left," Billick said. "We're not a team sitting here three games out of first place, saying, `Boy, if we can just sweep the last five or six games and this can happen.'

"We've got two games left. If we can play the way we're capable of and get to 10 wins, then some good things are going to happen. There's a lot of teams that would trade places with us right now."

Even if the Ravens fail to win the division, they have a shot to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card. The race for the sixth and final AFC seed could be a tricky one.

If the playoffs started today, the Denver Broncos (9-5) would claim the last wild-card spot because of a one-game lead over the Ravens and a better conference record than the Miami Dolphins (8-6).

To make the playoffs as a wild card, the Ravens would have to finish at least tied with the Broncos and ahead of the Dolphins. The Ravens would get the berth on the basis of the head-to-head tiebreaker, a 26-6 win over Denver in Week 8.

If the Ravens finish ahead of the Broncos and tied with the Dolphins, Miami would go to the playoffs as a result of its 9-6 overtime win over the Ravens a month ago.

A three-way tie with Denver and Miami would also eliminate the Ravens from the wild-card race. The tiebreaker in that case would be conference record, and neither the Ravens nor the Dolphins can mathematically catch the Broncos, who can finish no worse than 8-4 in the AFC.

Of the wild-card teams, the Ravens have the easiest remaining schedule (opponents have a combined 9-19 record), while the Broncos have the hardest, with trips to Indianapolis (11-3) and Green Bay (8-6). The Dolphins finish the season in Buffalo (6-8) and home against the New York Jets (6-8).

Whatever happens down the stretch run, the Ravens should not have to deal with a quarterback change.

Kyle Boller, the rookie who started the first nine games of the season, has successfully recovered from leg surgery and will serve as the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday. Billick reiterated yesterday that the starting job of Anthony Wright, who has completed less than half of his passes the past two weeks, is not in jeopardy.

"We're at the point in the season right now where we have been playing well enough, relatively speaking, that you can't arbitrarily move guys in and out, particularly at that position," Billick said.

"As much as there was a transition for a game or so for Anthony when Kyle got hurt, now is not the time to take a game and let the other guy come back in and get his legs underneath him and go forward.

"There's too much at stake right now. We have a little bit of a rhythm notwithstanding yesterday over the last month or so and we're going to try to maintain it."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (8-6) vs. Cleveland Browns (4-10)

Site:Cleveland Browns Stadium When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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