In the Ravens' minds, they aren't playing just the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
They are playing, as coach Brian Billick puts it, "the sweethearts of the league."
"Everybody loves them, and deservedly so. You go in and beat them, you might as well go and beat up Mother Teresa - you know, `You scums, what are you doing here?' " Billick said. "But that is what we are going to try to do, because there is a great deal of energy and emotion there right now."
The Saints have become the feel-good story of the NFL this season, rallying a city that has been slowly rebuilding itself since Hurricane Katrina.
The Ravens have a connection with the devastation that hit the Gulf Coast area because they played a preseason game two days before Katrina hit in August 2005. They also have six players who grew up in the area (quarterback Steve McNair, safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, cornerbacks David Pittman and Ronnie Prude and return specialist B.J. Sams).
The Ravens donated more than $1.2 million to relief efforts last season, including $165,000 from the players. But the Ravens said that Sunday is a time to separate tragedy from the business at hand.
"Of course, we'll go in there and be the bad guys," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I don't mind being the bad guy. I kind of like that. It's a great story. I hate to be part of the bad part of the story, but that's my job."
Billick said the Ravens will be prepared for the emotion, which has only increased the difficulty of playing at the traditionally noisy Superdome.
"This will be like nothing they have ever heard," he said. "It is as hard a dome to play in as there is."