Billick has no problem with postseason format

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Coach likes division setup despite chance team with better record has to travel

Pro Football

January 01, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick knew this would happen sooner or later. He's just happy that the Ravens are the beneficiaries this year.

When the NFL went to the eight-division format last year, it increased the likelihood of a division runner-up having to go on the road and face a division winner with a worse record.

That will be the case Saturday as the Tennessee Titans (12-4), second in the AFC South, visit the Ravens (10-6), the AFC North champs, in a wild-card game at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I am very much for keeping the integrity of the divisions," Billick said. "I understand that both now and in the future we could be victims of [it], but that's the setup and I'd hate to diminish it. If you didn't do it that way, you'd basically just have an AFC and NFC, no divisions, and the top six teams go. I'm an advocate of the division rivalries and what that represents."

In conference calls with the local media yesterday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher and quarterback Steve McNair refused to complain about Tennessee's fate.

McNair said the Titans, who were 5-3 as visitors this season, enjoy playing on the road, and Fisher put the blame on his team for its situation.

The Titans finished in a first-place tie with the Indianapolis Colts, but settled for the wild card because they lost to the Colts twice.

"We did this to ourselves," Fisher said. "We let a couple slip away this year that we should not have lost. We have struggled [in Baltimore], but we have been a good road team over the year. For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, most likely it is going to be three straight road games."

Historically, the home field has meant just about everything in the playoffs.

Since the NFL expanded its playoffs from 10 teams to 12 by adding two additional wild cards in 1990, home teams have gone 96-34. In the wild-card rounds, the hosts are 38-14.

That's more good news for the Ravens, who are 7-1 this season at M&T Bank Stadium and on a team-record six-game home winning streak. The Ravens are 1-0 at home in their playoff history.

"If our fans crank it up like they did Sunday night [against the Steelers], it's going to be tough," Billick said. "The Titans are going to have to fight that crowd all day long."

Wright revisited

Fisher was asked yesterday if the Titans were able to take anything away from their first meeting with Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright.

That came on Christmas Day in 2000, when Wright, then with the Cowboys, made just his second career start after being on Dallas' active roster for a little more than a month. In that game, Wright was 5-for-20 for 35 yards to go along with two interceptions.

The Titans won that game, 31-0, to clinch the AFC Central Division, forcing the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens to settle for the wild card.

"Players develop over time," Fisher said. "He's come a long way. He's poised in the pocket. He's making good decisions. And he still has potential to improve."

Injury report

On the initial injury report released yesterday, three Ravens (linebacker Peter Boulware, tight end John Jones and wide receiver Frank Sanders) are listed as questionable, and center Mike Flynn and running back Chester Taylor are probable.

More notable is the fact that 11 Titans, including McNair (ankle/calf), wide receiver Derrick Mason (rib) and defensive end Jevon Kearse (hip), are questionable (meaning there is a 50 percent chance they'll play).

"Questionable means it's questionable why we even do this," Billick said of the injury report. "I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that all those [Titans] show up on [Saturday]. ... I've got a certain experience level that tells me that."

Et cetera

Cincinnati Bengals coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis visited the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills yesterday. ... After last week's postponed ceremony, Ravens owner Art Modell will be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor before pre-game introductions Saturday. ... Linebacker Ray Lewis was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 15 tackles and an interception in the Ravens' 13-10 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. ... Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley attended practice yesterday and presented the team with a proclamation for making the playoffs. O'Malley said to the team: "On behalf of the people of our city, especially the kids, thank you so much for making us realize what we're capable of doing as a city. Take no prisoners, and thank you very, very much."

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