OAKLAND, Calif. - To reach the playoffs for the second straight season, the Ravens today have to do something they've always done under coach John Harbaugh - beat a team with a losing record.
The Ravens are 11-0 against those teams in Harbaugh's two seasons because of pizazz on offense, domination on defense and a little-known secret.
Asked why the Ravens don't overlook such teams, tight end Todd Heap essentially put his finger to his lips.
"The key thing is we don't talk about it," said Heap, whose Ravens (8-7) play their regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders (5-10) at 4:15 p.m.
Heap added, "We prepare for those games like we do every game. You can't relax and can't take it easy for any team. That's a sign of the maturity for this team."
The Ravens haven't just beaten teams with losing records. They have crushed them.
Their average margin of victory in those 11 wins has been 23.3 points. This season, the Ravens have roughed up the Cleveland Browns (twice), Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears by a combined score of 129-13.
Now, the Ravens travel cross country to play the Raiders, who stopped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from clinching a playoff spot in this same scenario in last season's finale.
Nearly every player that spoke about the Raiders called them "dangerous." And nearly every player recited the four teams with winning records that Oakland has knocked off this season: Philadelphia (11-4), Cincinnati (10-5), Denver (8-7) and Pittsburgh (8-7).
Asked whether there was any chance that the Ravens would overlook Oakland with the playoffs on the line, wide receiver Derrick Mason said: "Nope. Even if we were not in this circumstance, we wouldn't overlook the Raiders. They've beaten some very good teams."
No offense to Mason, but the Ravens can't afford to drop the ball today. A victory secures a playoff berth for the second straight season. A loss eliminates them from the postseason.
The Ravens would move up to the No. 5 seed if they win and the New York Jets lose at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, who could rest their starters. The Ravens would receive the sixth and final seed if they win along with the Jets.
Because of the significance of this game, Harbaugh has called the regular-season finale "a playoff game."
"It's tough to make the playoffs in the National Football League," he said. "It's not like some of these other leagues where most of the teams make the playoffs. Teams are going to battle every single week to try to accomplish that. It has come down to this game."
One reason for the Ravens' domination over teams with losing records is Harbaugh's preparation and attention to detail throughout the week. But the foundation for this run actually started before Harbaugh was hired in 2008.
The last time the Ravens fell to a team with a losing record was December 2007, when they were upset by the previously winless Miami Dolphins. There are 14 starters who remain and remember the embarrassment that comes from not taking a team seriously.
"That was a terrible loss," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I don't ever want to relive that."
The Ravens have been relentless against those teams since. Here are a couple of ways they've routed teams with losing records:
* Pizazz on offense. : The Ravens have scored at least 27 points in 10 of those 11 wins, and they have done it with some flash.
Last season against Oakland, the Ravens unveiled their "Suggs Package," and backup Troy Smith completed a 43-yard pass to starting quarterback Joe Flacco.
In last season's finale against Jacksonville (when the Ravens also needed a win to clinch a playoff spot), Flacco completed a 16-yard pass off a flea flicker in the second quarter and hit Smith for a 37-yard gain after he had received a cross-field lateral from the backup quarterback.
And two weeks ago against Chicago, the Ravens used the "Suggs Package" for the first time this season. Smith ran for 9 yards and threw an incomplete pass in the end zone.
* Domination on defense. : This season, the Ravens' defense has yet to allow a touchdown in four games against teams with losing records.
The Ravens held Cleveland to a field goal in September and shut out the Browns in November. They limited Detroit to a field goal in December and gave up a punt return for a touchdown against Chicago (the Bears' only points).
Losing teams have gone 16 quarters (and 51 drives) without scoring an offensive touchdown against the Ravens.
But the Ravens insist they will not take the Raiders lightly. Linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs understands the sense of urgency with this game. He made the playoffs as a rookie in 2003 and then didn't go back again until 2006.
"If you have a chance to get into the playoffs, you do it," Suggs said. "You definitely want to take advantage of that opportunity because there ain't no guarantee that you'll be back the next year, or if you'll ever go back again."
Taking no prisoners
Under coach John Harbaugh, left, the Ravens are 11-0 against teams with losing records. The Ravens play the 5-10 Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Date Opponent (record*) Result
9-21-08 vs. Cleveland (0-2) Won, 28-10
10-19-08 at Miami (2-3) Won, 27-13
10-26-08 vs. Oakland (2-4) Won, 29-10
11-2-08 at Cleveland (3-4) Won, 37-27
11-9-08 at Houston (3-5) Won, 41-13
11-30-08 at Cincinnati (1-9-1) Won, 34-3
12-28-08 vs. Jacksonville (5-10) Won, 27-7
9-27-09 vs. Cleveland (0-2) Won, 34-3
11-16-09 at Cleveland (1-7) Won, 16-0
12-13-09 vs. Detroit (2-10) Won, 48-3
12-20-09 vs. Chicago (5-8) Won, 31-7
* Record when playing Ravens
Today, 4:15 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 10 1/2