The Baltimore Ravens are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth with another win and have gained frontrunner status in their pursuit of the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night assures the Ravens (10-3) of a spot in the postseason as at least a wild-card entrant, just as it would for the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) if they defeat the San Francisco 49ers.
And the Ravens are also positioned to claim the top seed over the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Steelers if they win their remaining three games due to their superior strength of victory under the NFL tiebreaker formula.
It would be unprecedented in franchise history to be the top seed having previously ranked second five years ago.
"That's the object, just to win the next game more than anything," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "If that happens, we pretty much know where the chips are going to fall. So, we try to control what we can control. Obviously, we've got a big challenge this week."
As the Ravens chase their playoff goals, they struck an elusive balance offensively Sunday during their 24-10 win over the winless Indianapolis Colts.
They ran the football 37 times for 146 yards and a touchdown and passed it 31 times for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
"I just think we're playing good team football," said running back Ray Rice, who rushed for 103 yards on 26 carries. "We were cooking on all cylinders. We passed when we needed to pass it and ran when we needed to run it."
Rice eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive season, tying Jamal Lewis' franchise record.
One week removed from gaining a career-high 204 yards on 29 carries during a win over the Cleveland Browns where Baltimore ran the football a franchise-record 55 times, the Ravens passed it nearly as many times as they threw it.
"I thought it was a good blend, absolutely," Harbaugh said. "We were moving the ball, getting first downs."
Flacco completed 23 passes.
Baltimore converted 7 of 13 third-down opportunities.
And they were successful on 3 of 4 red-zone shots with Flacco connecting on touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta from eight and seven yards.
Rice ran untouched into the end zone on a six-yard score.
"We had some success in both," Flacco said. "It wasn't like we were getting stoned in the passing game and stoned in the running game, and had to pick between one. We were actually able to be successful in running the ball and in throwing the ball, and we did both of those."
Ranked 14th in total offense, the Ravens are 13th in rushing offense and 15th in passing offense.
For the season, the Ravens have run the ball 376 times for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns.
And they've thrown it 466 times for 3,123 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"We want to be a great offense," said Smith, who tied a Ravens record for rookies with his sixth touchdown of the season Sunday. "In order to do that, we have to run the ball, pass the ball, not have any penalties and be able to score in the red zone.
"We're not there yet, but we're working towards that. I think we're still improving, but there's a bunch of new people on the team, and especially, from Joe's point of view, we're still growing and getting a better feel for each other each and every week."
The improved balance on offense bodes well for the Ravens as they attempt to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
"You're always trying to gain momentum," Harbaugh said. "You're always trying to be as good as you can be and improve."
The Ravens personify the term, home-field advantage, since they've won all seven of their games at M&T Bank Stadium this season and have won 17 of their past 18 home games.
"Championship teams, they don't settle for what's happening right now," said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had three sacks and three forced fumbles Sunday. "Every week, they try to get better. We're doing a lot of things good, but we have to correct things and get better at the things we're not doing so well. We're still not satisfied. This team is hungry."
The Ravens acknowledge they've been watching scoreboards, but not to the point of distraction.
"We can get where we want to go, but all the stuff, all the external stuff, about playoff scenarios and what ifs, it doesn't matter," center Matt Birk said. "All we have to do is focus on our opponents this week."
Ravens notebook: Lardarius Webb has toe injury
OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb suffered a turf toe injury toward the end of a win Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts.
Under a best-case scenario, Webb is expected to miss anywhere from one to three games depending on how fast he heals.
The worst-case scenario is Webb would be out until the playoffs.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized, though, that all of the players who took part in a 24-10 win over the Colts are expected to be able to play Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers.
"As far as injuries go, there's nothing serious coming out of that game," Harbaugh said. "We've got bumps and bruises. There may be some guys that we rest throughout the course of the week practice-wise but we anticipate everybody that was playing last week health-wise, to be healthy this week and we're hoping to add some guys. Lardarius played last week, so we have that answer."
Webb has been having a strong season, intercepting four passes to lead the defense and hasn't allowed a touchdown pass.
If Webb is sidelined, the Ravens would start rookie first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith opposite Cary Williams.
Harbaugh expressed undefined optimism that All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis might be able to return this week after missing the past four games with a right turf toe injury.
Cornerback Chris Carr might also get back on the field after being sidelined for three consecutive games with a back injury.
"The Harbaugh scale would be very hopeful, very hopeful for his return," Harbaugh said of Lewis' status. "He's doing a good job. We'll just have to see."
A former All-American selection at Colorado, Smith has intercepted two passes this season.
After missing time earlier this season with a high-ankle sprain, he has started the past two games in the nickel package with Webb shifting inside to cover the inside receiver while he lines up outside.
The Ravens have noticed improvement from Smith.
"Just learning the game, probably, Harbaugh said. "He's a young guy, and he's learning football at a whole another level than what he's used to in college."
A LITTLE HELP: Jim Harbaugh, Harbaugh's younger brother, coaches his San Francisco 49ers team against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
A 49ers victory would help the Ravens in the race for the AFC North division title and the top seed in the AFC as Baltimore and Pittsburgh both own 10-3 records.
Harbaugh acknowledged that he'll likely consult with his brother before kickoff.
"I'm sure there will be some of that," Harbaugh said. "The truth is coaches do that around the league based on best interest and things like that. I know for a fact a lot of coaches have spent a lot of time talking about us before they play us. So, I'm sure we'll try to help him in some way if we can. But it's not really our game; it's not really our concern."
Harbaugh downplayed the significance of the Steelers-49ers game, saying the focus should be on the Chargers.
"To me, that should not be a story, it really shouldn't," Harbaugh said. "The story is us going out and playing San Diego. That's the story, and that's what we're going to be concerned with."
KINDLE PROGRESSING: It was a rare occurrence as outside linebacker Sergio Kindle was active for the second time this season.
He played at the end of the game on defense and also lined up on special teams, including the kickoff team, punt return team and kickoff return team.
"Been working too hard not to be out there," Kindle said. "I was just waiting for my time to come. When it did, I had to make the best of it."
Kindle registered no statistics, but seemed to play well.
"He did have a good game," Harbaugh said. "Sergio did a nice job on special teams. He was very solid. He got all of his blocks. He covered kickoffs very solidly.
"In the pass-rush stuff, he didn't really get on track. He was in that last drive. I think he was playing a little more solid, conservatively. He can definitely crank up that pass rush a little more."
The former second-round draft pick hopes the coaches are noticing progress from him after missing his entire rookie season with a fractured skull.
"That has to be it," he said. "They won't put you out there if they don't think you're prepared. I know I've been working my tail off. So, it's evident that I've progressed from the Jets game to now."
Where have the coaches seen improvement?
"Well, he just has a better understanding now," Harbaugh said. "I think in some ways, he started over from a football standpoint. He had been out for so long, and then the injury maybe had some kind of an effect. He's been working very hard and he's been studying very hard. He's made a lot of progress, and we think he's ready to play more and more."
Kindle lined up at outside linebacker and got off the ball quickly, but didn't get to the quarterback.
"I don't think I put my best rush forward," he said. "Maybe nerves, because I'm a speed rusher and I'm a slender defensive end. The other guy's pretty big and I'm running down the middle. That's an automatic loss. I've just got to get back to what I do best."
Kindle is hoping he'll remain active going forward after becoming a fixture on the inactive list for the majority of the season.
"Definitely," he said. "That's the plan."
NO WORSE: Harbaugh confirmed that Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff didn't aggravate his left calf injury Sunday.
Cundiff hit a 36-yard field goal and all three extra points.
He wasn't able to kick off in the second half, but is expected to be fine for the Chargers game.
"Not a major concern," Harbaugh said. "It's good that he'll have more rest. I think he tweaked it on Thursday. So he got through the game OK, but it started tightening up on him during the game on kickoffs. We should get him seven more days of rest and some kicking. We probably won't kick him a lot, but he should be fine for the game."
The Ravens tried out former Pro Bowl kicker Shayne Graham last Friday, but didn't sign him.
Punter Sam Koch, who handled kickoffs in the second half, was the Ravens' fallback plan if Cundiff had a setback during the game.
"We were OK with Billy on field goals," Harbaugh said. "We had never thought about Sam yet. If you're asking if Billy were to go down, Sam can get out there further than people would probably think. We've had him in practice, I probably wouldn't want to say exactly, but it depends on the conditions. He's capable of getting out there and hitting a field goal, not just an extra point."
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