For Ravens, nothing matters like state of mind

January 07, 2009|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Let's take a dispassionate look at the tale of the tape for Saturday's playoff showdown between the Ravens and the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans.

The Titans are the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They are listed as a three-point favorite. They are playing at home. And they beat the Ravens in a regular-season matchup at M&T Bank Stadium in October.

Oh, and I almost forgot. They are coming off their second scheduled bye week of the season, which compares very favorably to the Ravens' none.

It would seem that the Ravens are looking up at another mountainous obstacle in a season of wildly uneven topography, but I'm starting to think that this surprising team and its pleasantly surprised fans wouldn't have it any other way.

The road to the Super Bowl - if that is where it is going to eventually lead - should go through Tennessee, where the winningest team in the NFL also awaits the biggest challenge of its season. The Ravens are on a roll after three pretty convincing victories in a row, and they've proved to be very tough on the road, where they have won six of their past seven games. They also have a score to settle with the Titans, who beat them in Baltimore in part because of a very questionable penalty that helped extend the game-winning drive.

But the main reason I am going to ignore the oddsmakers and look like a homer by picking the Ravens to win by a touchdown this week is even more intangible. It comes down to the frame of mind that each team will carry into the late afternoon showdown at LP Field.

The Ravens want the Titans. They knew it would have to come to this for them to have a chance to play in Tampa on Super Sunday. They faced a do-or-die game in Dallas and overcame all the emotion of the final game ever at Texas Stadium. They went to Miami and fractured the Dolphins' fairy tale. They have gotten tougher and more confident with each victory, to the point where nobody even raised an eyebrow Sunday when Ed Reed made like Paul Revere and sent out a warning to the remaining teams in the NFL playoff picture that the Ravens are coming.

The Titans, meanwhile, could not have wanted this matchup. They can talk all day about taking whatever comes, but they know it took a great escape to get out of Baltimore with a victory and they know the Ravens are a much, much better team than the one that had them by the throat for the first 54 minutes of that 13-10 comeback win. They knew how Apollo Creed felt in the first Rocky. They didn't want a rematch.

They are getting one against a team that has turned just about every negative into a positive. The Ravens lost their scheduled bye week because of the hurricane that forced the postponement of their road game against the Houston Texans, but they march into their 17th consecutive game week wearing their endurance like a badge of courage. They'll be playing off a short practice week while the Titans have had 13 days to prepare, and they probably view that as an advantage.

Might be. The playoff bye can be a two-edged sword. The Titans have had extra time to heal some of the bumps and bruises of the regular season, but can they ramp up to the intensity of a team that has played three consecutive must-win games?

There is some history here, too. The Ravens beat the Titans in Tennessee on the way to their 2001 title and knocked Kerry Collins all over Raymond James Stadium in their 34-7 blowout victory over the Giants in the Super Bowl. That probably doesn't mean a thing, but it's fun to imagine Collins trying to sleep the night before facing a new incarnation of the perennially brutal Ravens defense.

Of course, Collins isn't the same player he was back then. He's playing more of a Trent Dilfer role with the Titans' run-oriented attack, which is the one little bit of karma that doesn't seem to favor the Ravens on Saturday.

If you're a Ravens fan, you had to believe the stars started to line up when the Indianapolis Colts lost to the San Diego Chargers on Saturday. The Colts were the one good AFC team that didn't fit my theory. I don't believe the Ravens or their fans would have been thrilled to have them looming ahead if Joe Flacco and the defense manage to get this team past the Titans and into the AFC championship game. I do believe that if this is truly a team of destiny, it will go through both Tennessee and Pittsburgh on the way to the promised land.

Would that be sweet or what?

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Fridays and Saturdays.

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