Closer look at the Ravens playoff scenarios

December 27, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Starting quarterback Joe Flacco became the Browns' biggest fan immediately after the Ravens clinched a playoff berth with a win at Cleveland.

The only way the Ravens have a shot at the AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs is for the Browns to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I told some of [the Browns] to go get 'em next week," Flacco said. "It would definitely be nice to see those guys go and play Pittsburgh tough."

The Ravens (11-4) locked up a spot in the postseason for a team-record third straight season with a 20-10 victory over the Browns on Sunday, but they can't relax going into the playoffs.

Capturing the division and the AFC's No. 2 seed is more than enough motivation for the Ravens heading into their regular-season finale against the last-place Cincinnati Bengals (4-11) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The regular season is not over," Harbaugh said. "There's still something to be accomplished. We're going to take a run at it and see what happens."

How a team enters the playoffs is typically an indicator on how the team finishes. Since 2002, when the NFL went to eight divisions, there have been 11 top-2 seeds to reach the Super Bowl while only two wild-card teams have done so. The difference between being a top seed and a wild card (which has to play every playoff game on the road) is huge.

In order for the Ravens to leapfrog into the No. 2 slot (New England has already wrapped up the top seed), they need to beat the Bengals and the Steelers (11-4) have to lose at Cleveland (5-10).

Can the 6-point underdog Browns help the Ravens and somehow beat Pittsburgh?

"I hope so," Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "They always play the Steelers tough. It's a divisional game. You never know what happens in this business. I'm hoping and praying they do win. But it's all for nothing if we can't finish off Cincinnati."

If the Ravens fail to win the division, they are locked in as a No. 5 seed and would travel to play one of three teams in the first round: Indianapolis (9-6), Kansas City (10-5) or Jacksonville (8-7).

Their probable postseason opponent is the Colts, who have beaten the Ravens the last eight meetings. The next most likely one is the Chiefs, who are undefeated at home this season. The long shot is the Jaguars, who have faded after losing two straight games.

Here's how the Ravens could face each one of those teams in the first round:

• Indianapolis. The Colts beat Tennessee, and the Chiefs defeat Oakland.

• Kansas City. The Chiefs lose to Oakland, and the Colts beat Tennessee.

• Jacksonville. The Jaguars win at Houston, and the Colts lose.

It will be a busy week for the Ravens, who will start scouting Indianapolis, Kansas City and Jacksonville while still game-planning for the Bengals.

"Our coaches will [prepare for these teams] based on the likelihood of who we're going to play," Harbaugh said. "You just gather as much information as you possibly can, but the focus really is the Cincinnati Bengals."

The Ravens are attacking the last regular season game with the same intensity as the previous ones.

Even if Pittsburgh takes a big lead on the Browns — this game will be played at the same time as the Ravens' one against Cincinnati — Harbaugh said it won't change anything.

"I'm sure we'll be watching the scoreboard to see how the game is going, but we're not pulling anyone out of the game," Harbaugh said. "We're going to try to win the game."

The Ravens would kick themselves if the Steelers lost and they weren't able to hold up their end against the Bengals. Slipping up against Cincinnati has already cost the Ravens. It's the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati that has given the tiebreaker advantage (better division record) to the Steelers.

"We're playing for something, so we'll play," said Harbaugh, who has lost three straight times to the Bengals. "It would be great to have the No. 1 seed all wrapped up and be able to rest some guys, but we're not that in that situation."

The Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles are the only two teams to qualify for the playoffs for the past three years (the Colts would be the third if they clinch Sunday).

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have made the playoffs the previous two seasons as a wild card. They lost in the AFC championship game in 2008 and were defeated in the divisional round in 2009.

"There's only 12 teams that get a chance to play for the Super Bowl," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Hopefully, we'll learn from our mistakes these past two years and give ourselves a legitimate run at this thing."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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