If Ravens win out at home, they could start postseason at M&T Bank Stadium

November 23, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' arduous schedule has hit the home stretch, the highly anticipated run where they finish the regular season by playing four out of their remaining six games at M&T Bank Stadium.

If the Ravens can successfully defend their turf, they have an excellent shot at playing on it in the postseason -- a luxury they've never enjoyed under coach John Harbaugh.

The NFL's playoff road warriors the past two seasons, the Ravens have long set their sights on capturing one of the top four seeds in the AFC, locking up at least one home postseason game and taking a more favorable path toward the Super Bowl.

"I would think that every team that's a contender would make that a priority," Harbaugh said a day after the Ravens pulled away from the Carolina Panthers for a 37-13 win.

If the season ended today, the Ravens (7-3) would be the No. 2 seed in the AFC, which is an enviable position but not an extremely secure one considering the NFL landscape.

In a bunched-up playoff race, they find themselves one game behind the top-seeded New York Jets (8-2), and two games off the postseason bubble (they would come out on top of the Indianapolis Colts, also on the bubble, because of a better conference record).

Still, the Ravens' best start under Harbaugh gives them a most viable chance to secure their first home playoff game since the 2006 season.

"We put ourselves in a really good spot to do that," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "But we have to play well against some good teams in order to do that."

The Ravens' remaining home schedule is demanding. They have to play the NFL's biggest surprise team (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), their biggest division rival (Pittsburgh Steelers) and the defending Super Bowl champions (New Orleans Saints) at M&T Bank Stadium.

But no one has been tougher at home than the Ravens recently. Their seven-game winning streak at M&T Bank Stadium is the NFL's longest current one (the New England Patriots have won 14 straight regular-season games at home but lost to the Ravens in last season's playoffs). With a win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, the Ravens would tie the best home streak in team history.

"It just don't get no better once you go through the bulk of your schedule, the way we went through playing so many teams on the road," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "This is huge for us. We've lost nothing at home yet. So, that kind of goes in our favor right now."

To reach their goal, the targeted number of wins is at least 12. Since 2007, all 12 teams who reached that mark earned a first or second seed, which secures a first-round bye in the playoffs and a home game in the divisional round.

The Ravens have had to do it the hard way in their first two seasons under Harbaugh, playing all five postseason games away from home.

In 2008, the Ravens won at Miami and Tennessee before falling at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game. Last season, they went on the road to upset New England and lose at Indianapolis.

"We do well in the beginning, but it just gets tough when fans go crazy in that playoff atmosphere," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.

The Ravens are among four teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the AFC at this point, joining the New York Jets, Patriots and Steelers.

Of those teams, the Ravens have the most remaining home games. The team with the easiest remaining schedule is the Steelers, who face only two teams with winning records (the Ravens and Jets) the rest of the way. To secure a home game in the playoffs, the Ravens have to beat out the Steelers to win the AFC North. That's why the Dec.5 game against Pittsburgh is looming so large.

When asked about the Ravens' playoff goals, Harbaugh insisted, "Let's take care of first things first."

"We have to take care of Tampa Bay," Harbaugh said. "That's a really good, young football team coming in here that's playing very well. That'll give us a chance to win our division, and that's what we need to do first."

Unlike previous seasons, there is no dominant team. Each is dealing with its own flaws. There are questions about the Jets' defense late in games, the Steelers' banged-up offensive line and the Patriots' young defense.

Ravens players see it as a positive that they have one of the best records in the NFL despite not playing their best. The offense is still looking for a complete game, and the defense is trying to stop big plays.

"I feel like we're still building," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're still continuing to grow even at this point in the season. As long as we can keep tacking on wins and still have that momentum going in our favor, getting a home playoff game would be huge for us."

Harbaugh, whose mantra has always been focusing on the week's opponent, isn't immune to peeking to see how the rest of the AFC is faring at this point in the season. He conceded that he'll ask for scores after a game and watch the crawl at the bottom of the TV screens on the flight back home.

"I'll admit to being disappointed in some of those scores and happy with some of the other ones," Harbaugh said. "What you want is what's best for the Ravens."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

Of the AFC teams with three or fewer losses, the Ravens have the most remaining home games: TeamRemaining opp. recordHome games leftWinning teams leftRavens30-3043N.Y. Jets31-2933New England31-2933Pittsburgh23-3732REMAINING SCHEDULES

RAVENS: vs. Tampa Bay (7-3), vs. Pittsburgh (7-3), at Houston (4-6), vs. New Orleans (7-3), at Cleveland (3-7) and vs. Cincinnati (2-8)

N.Y. JETS: vs. Cincinnati (2-8), at New England (8-2), vs. Miami (5-5), at Pittsburgh (7-3), at Chicago (7-3) and vs. Buffalo (2-8)

NEW ENGLAND: at Detroit (2-8), vs. N.Y. Jets (8-2), at Chicago (7-3), vs. Green Bay (7-3), at Buffalo (2-8) and vs. Miami (5-5)

PITTSBURGH: at Buffalo (2-8), at Ravens (7-3), vs. Cincinnati (2-8), vs. N.Y. Jets (8-2), vs. Carolina (1-9) and at Cleveland (3-7)

    Baltimore Sun Articles
    |
    |
    |
    Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.