At 3-0, Ravens have history on their side

Playoff indicator may be offset by foes being 0-8

September 26, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

History says NFL teams that start 3-0 usually reach the playoffs.

Skeptics say the Ravens' three wins have come against teams who are a combined 0-8.

So, are the Ravens among the league's best teams or are they simply very good against bad teams?

"This is the schedule. This is what the league laid out for us," coach Brian Billick said a day after the Ravens' 15-14 comeback victory over the winless Cleveland Browns. "The next two teams have a bye before they play us. That's the way the league laid that out. We'll play them as they come up. Each has its own difficulty.

"We're 3-0 and who we've played has no bearing whatsoever on how we're going to play San Diego. We have to take San Diego for what they are, which for my money may be the best team in the AFC right now."

If the Ravens needed a sign of disrespect, it came several hours after Sunday's game when the Ravens were announced as two-point underdogs against the Chargers despite playing at home.

The perception of the Ravens could change in a pivotal three-game stretch: home against the undefeated Chargers (2-0), at the Denver Broncos (2-1) on Monday Night Football and home against the Carolina Panthers (1-2), who were preseason Super Bowl favorites.

San Diego, in particular, features perhaps the best NFL player on offense (running back LaDainian Tomlinson) and defense (linebacker Shawne Merriman).

"This team has a lot of momentum and is very, very talented and physical," Billick said. "It can hurt you in a lot of ways."

If anything, the Ravens have proved they can beat the teams they are supposed to beat, doing so with a fearsome defense, a fickle offense and a flawless kicker.

The Ravens' victories have come against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3), Oakland Raiders (0-2) and Cleveland (0-3) - teams that have collectively lost by an average of 14 points this season.

But a 3-0 start represents a significant benchmark by NFL standards, regardless of the opponents.

Since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 62 of the 82 teams (76 percent) that started the season 3-0 reached the postseason. Last season, all four teams that won their first three games made the playoffs (including three division winners).

"[Going 3-0] means a whole bunch," receiver Derrick Mason said. "It means we're playing a lot better than what we did last year. But our ultimate goal is 4-0. We're going against a tough opponent in San Diego. We're going to put ourselves in position that come November and December where we control our own destiny."

A major reason the Ravens have gone 3-0 this season has been their luck with injuries. No starter has yet to miss a game, a trend that might continue this week.

Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs, who left Sunday's game with a pulled right hamstring, walked around the practice complex without a limp yesterday and seemed ready to return to the lineup. He even playfully wrestled with some teammates while coming out of a meeting.

"As far as I know, everything's going according to plan," said Suggs, who has never missed a game in his four-year career. "I don't feel that bad. I feel a lot better than [Sunday]. I think we're probably making a big deal over nothing."

It seems like everything is going the Ravens' way after a season in which few things did.

The Ravens have already achieved half of their win total from last season. They have won both of their road games after losing 11 straight away from home.

And they are one of seven undefeated teams left in the NFL.

There's a simple explanation for how the Ravens have gone from an underachieving 6-10 team to an emerging playoff contender in one season, according to Billick.

"A lot of it has to do with momentum, the belief you can do it," he said. "When things head a certain way - as they did last year on a number of occasions - it's hard not to give in to that overwhelming force that says, `Oh boy, is this going to be one of those games again?'

"Momentum is very tenuous. So the momentum that we have collectively after three wins is great right now. But it will change in a heartbeat if we allow it."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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