SITE: Dolphin Stadium; Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
SERIES: 9th meeting. The Ravens trail in the regular-season series, 5-2. The Ravens won the only postseason game, beating the Dolphins, 20-3, in Miami on Jan. 13, 2002. Terry Allen rushed for 109 yards. Elvis Grbac hit Travis Taylor for a 4-yard touchdown pass that capped a 99-yard drive. The always-tough Ravens defense didn't allow a touchdown.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens forced 34 turnovers during the regular season, but can't count on producing many against highly efficient Dolphins QB Chad Pennington. He'll attempt to put together a methodical offense that will rely heavily on RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and a bevy of short and intermediate passes. The main problem is the lack of deep speed outside of WR Ted Ginn, as vertical passing attacks have had the most success against Baltimore's fast and complex defense. The Ravens allow just 81.4 rushing yards per game and if Miami's ground game stalls, the Dolphins are in serious trouble because they aren't built to convert third-and-longs. ... As much poise and progress as rookie QB Joe Flacco has displayed, the Ravens' offense still begins with RBs Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee setting the table. Baltimore's young offensive line is a strong run-blocking unit, and the Ravens want to focus on winning field position and keeping Flacco away from the Dolphins' pass rush. Look for Miami to use a lot of eight-man fronts against the run and hope CBs Will Allen and Andre' Goodman can hold their own in single coverage.
KEY INJURIES: Ravens: WR Derrick Mason (shoulder) will play; RB Ray Rice (calf) is uncertain; CB Fabian Washington (toe) is likely a game-time decision. Dolphins: TE David Martin (head) and DT Randy Starks (ankle) are uncertain.
FAST FACTS: Miami tied the NFL record with just 13 turnovers during the regular season. ... The Ravens won the only previous postseason meeting, 20-3, at Miami in 2001.
-- CB Samari Rolle missed his second straight day of practice Thursday with an ankle and foot injury. He is considered a game-time decision. Frank Walker would replace Rolle.
-- RB Willis McGahee has averaged 94 yards in four games at Dolphin Stadium.
-- WR Derrick Mason returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a shoulder injury. He has been limited for the past month because of the injury but has continued to play.
-- FS Ed Reed returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a hamstring injury. He has paced himself through practices the past month and continues to play at a high level.
-- DT Justin Bannan returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a foot injury. Bannan is expected to start.
-- TE David Martin, who sustained head and neck injuries in the first half of Sunday's win over the Jets, returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Martin, who has 31 catches for a career-high 450 yards and three touchdowns, said it's up to the coach.
-- TE Joey Haynos will receive extended playing time if Martin is limited Sunday or can't play. Haynos has played in seven games this season, and has two catches for 22 yards, including his first career touchdown against the 49ers.
-- DE Randy Starks, an integral member of the defensive line rotation, returned to practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis, while he recovers from a sprained ankle sustained in last week's win over the Jets. Starks said he expects to play.
-- WR Davone Bess, the undrafted rookie out of Hawaii, finished the season with 54 catches, third most by a Dolphins rookie, but his only touchdown this season came against the Ravens, a 7-yarder. It was Miami's lone touchdown in the 27-13 loss.
-- LB Joey Porter has just one sack in his last three games, but two of his career-high 17.5 sacks came against Joe Flacco and the Ravens earlier this season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Despite dealing with a painful hyperextended toe, cornerback Fabian Washington said he intends to play in Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game between the Ravens and the Miami Dolphins.
Washington, who was traded from the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round pick in April, said the toe has improved since he sat out Sunday's 27-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It helped a lot," he said. "I did nothing last week other than rehabbing it and getting treatment. This week, it's still sore, but I'm definitely positive about it, and I think I could play Sunday."
That's good news for the Ravens. Washington has become the team's top cover cornerback this season.
But he has missed a few games because of injuries, and Washington doesn't have a solid history of bouncing back quickly.
The former first round pick of the Oakland Raiders said he injured his big toe when he stepped on Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens' heel Dec. 20. Although he did not practice Wednesday, he returned to practice Thursday.
"I'm going to try and practice at some point this week because you can't just go in there," he said. "I don't like to go in without having any practice under my belt."
Rookie running back Ray Rice, who compared his left shin bruise to a high ankle sprain, said missing the past three games has aided the healing.
"It took its course, and now it's getting progressively better," said Rice, who was limited in practice this week but said he is "90 percent sure" he will play Sunday. "I'm able to do some stuff in practice, and I warmed up before the last two games before the coaches made the call. If I do this stuff, I think I'll be fine."
Meanwhile, the Ravens are dealing with another distraction that has nothing to do with injuries.
Willis McGahee has seemed less than exuberant about heading to the playoffs.
"My season is over," McGahee said. "(Since) Week 5, I haven't done anything at all. It's not like I'm going to get 1,000 yards, so I'm just playing my role."
Actually, since then, McGahee has had three 100-yard-plus games, including a 77-yard touchdown run that helped the Ravens beat the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 20, but it seemed to be of little consolation.
"Still, it's not like where I want to be at," said McGahee, who had 671 yards and seven touchdowns on 170 carries in the regular season. "I'm used to competing, but with the injuries and whatnot holding me back, I look at it as a loss."
McGahee has fallen behind Le'Ron McClain on the team's depth chart. Over the past three games, McGahee has been the team's third-down back. But if Rice returns, McGahee could see his playing time reduced further.
Ravens first-year head coach John Harbaugh was unfazed by McGahee's radio remarks and dismissed any potential distraction they might create.
"No, no concerns about that at all," Harbaugh said.
The Dolphins have already paid back one team that had beaten them this season when they knocked off the Jets 24-17 Sunday to clinch the AFC East title.
Now they're hoping to do the same to the Baltimore Ravens, who other than the Cardinals, dealt the Dolphins their most convincing defeat this season when they beat Miami 27-13 on Oct. 19 at Dolphin Stadium.
After that, Miami won nine of its last 10, while the Ravens — who entered that game on a three-game losing streak — ripped off nine wins in their last 11 games. Now, the two are on a collision course for a wild card playoff game Sunday at Dolphin Stadium.
"Just as we have grown leaps and bounds, so has the Baltimore Ravens and we respect that and understand that," said Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington. "We understand what type of football game we're getting into. Offensively, we're playing a defense that has been extremely good for a long period of time, has experienced football players and as a defense, they think offensively.
"They expect themselves to go out, create turnovers, score points and put their offense in a good position and they do the best job at it. They're intimidating, they play extremely physical, they're extremely fast and their versatility; they're so versatile across the board that guys who rush the passer can also cover in the passing game, they can defend the run, they can be all over the board. We've got a big challenge ahead of us."
To a man, Dolphins players believe that the fellow 11-5 Ravens won't recognize this far more confident version in Miami.
"We are a lot better; it just took time to get together," said linebacker Channing Crowder. "We are playing more as a team and we are playing more together. If you see when someone scores, the offense comes right back out and scores. It's just a team effort.
"I have watched that game at least five or six times, the last time we played them, and we are just a lot better defense than we were back then."
One key element that will be on the field Sunday that was missing for most of the early-season loss against Baltimore is Dolphins mammoth nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who strained his oblique in the opening series. Without their best run stuffer, the Ravens dominated the time of possession and gained 139 rushing yards with Willis McGahee, rookie Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain taking turns gashing Miami.
"That's huge for us. That's a big part of our defense in the middle," safety Yeremiah Bell said of having Ferguson back. "It shores up everybody's gaps. When you got Ferg in there you know he's going to hold his gap so it makes it easier for us to run and get around things on the second level."
Both teams are in the top three in the NFL in turnover ratio, but the play that turned their first meeting toward the Ravens side of the ledger came on linebacker Terrell Suggs' 44-yard interception touchdown return in the second quarter. It gave Baltimore a 14-3 lead and momentum.
"I think the last game we made some mistakes and had a big turnover that turned into seven points," said running back Ronnie Brown, who was stuffed for just 27 yards on 13 carries. "I think that if we play the way that we are capable of playing, last game we had an opportunity in the red zone and we had to settle for a field goal, and just go back and look at the film we have a lot of areas that we can improve in.
"Now the scenario is going to be a little bit different, the stakes are higher, it's a playoff game, were home so there is a lot to play for, and like I said, we have improved a whole lot since the first time that we played them."