Multiple scenarios remain viable for the Ravens (8-5) to claim the fifth or
sixth playoff spots in the AFC, yet just as many exist for them to be shut out
of the postseason as the Pittsburgh Steelers have already claimed the AFC North
"It's a must-win from here on out," safety Ed Reed said.
Although the Ravens remain tied with the Denver Broncos (8-5) for the sixth spot and are one game behind the New York Jets (9-4) for the fifth berth, combinations are likely to be in play until the final weekend of the regular season.
Minutes after exploiting Eli Manning's inexperience and dispatching the hapless New York Giants with a 37-14 beating, the Ravens turned their focus toward Peyton Manning, Eli's accomplished older brother, and the prolific Colts.
Winning the majority of or all of their final three games appears to be the surest path into the playoffs as the Ravens play Indianapolis (10-3) Sunday night at the RCA Dome followed by Pittsburgh on the road and Miami at home. Jacksonville (7-6) and Buffalo (7-6) are one game behind Baltimore.
"There are no scenarios," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We've got to win to get in, and then we'll go wherever they send us. We're not playing for home-field advantage. We're not playing for a bye. We're not playing to get at home.
"For us, it's simple. This is a playoff for us. I don't know what we need. I'd just as soon win out and be disappointed that 11-5 doesn't get in. That means each game is a playoff, which is fine because we are going to be battle-tested."
Especially against the Colts.
Indianapolis ranks first in the NFL in total offense, passing yards and points scored, averaging 35 points per contest.
Manning has the top passer rating (126.3) in the league, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,919 yards with only nine interceptions. His 46 touchdown passes are two shy of tying Dan Marino's single-game touchdown record established in 1984..
The elder Manning certainly won't be posting a zero quarterback rating, as Eli Manning did Sunday.
"You know Peyton is going to be upset after the way we treated his brother," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "Right now, he's probably the NFL MVP. The season he's been having is going to present a challenge for us. At the same time, we've got to accept that and try to beat a top-notch team."
The Ravens flexed some muscle against New York, forcing six turnovers as quarterback Kyle Boller delivered a career-high four touchdown passes.
Baltimore is also at its healthiest in a season where starters have missed 45 games. Billick said no player is likely to be listed any worse than questionable when the team files its injury report Wednesday.
All-Pro runner Jamal Lewis apparently emerged unscathed in his first game back after missing two weeks with a sprained right ankle. He rushed for 32 yards on eight carries, had his ankle re-taped at halftime and Billick opted to hold him out in the second half of a rout where Chester Taylor rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries.
"I went to Jamal at halftime and said, 'How do you feel?' He said, 'I feel good." I said, 'Can you go?' He said, 'Absolutely.' I said, 'Did you get enough?' And he said, 'Probably,'" Billick said. "He was ready to go at that point, but I said, 'You know what, I'm going to make a calculated decision.' He came out of it well.
"He pushed it pretty good, enough of a pop, good, hard physical runs, the kind of runs that you want to see. It was kind of like the preseason where it was, 'OK, we've seen enough, we don't need him.' He felt good about it, so I thought it was adequate."
Billick said that the outdated artificial turf of the RCA Dome isn't a concern. He said Lewis' snaps are likely to be doubled from last week.
"Now, Chester's running awfully well so would it be the ratio like we've had before, I don't know," Billick said. "I think Jamal's ready to play 40-45 snaps. If he's got to go 60, he will."
It's imperative that Baltimore generate enough offense to keep Manning, who has thrown at least two touchdown passes in an NFL record 13 consecutive games, on the sidelines and avoid a shootout that it's ill-suited for.
Could Manning have a bone to pick with the Ravens after the rough treatment they doled out to his novice brother?
"I don't know that this is a grudge match of any sort," Billick said. "He's a phenomenal, elite quarterback that's having a history-breaking year. Peyton's elevated to that status of Michael Jordan, where you don't stop him. You hope to contain him."
Manning will also be gunning for a significant place in NFL history, dueling with Reed, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions.
Would avoiding becoming the answer to a trivia question serve as added motivation for the defense?
"I don't know that that's a factor," said Billick, whose youthful 2002 team was edged 22-20 at Indianapolis following an off-season salary-cap purge. "If all 48 came against the Baltimore Ravens, then I'd probably feel a little bad about it. Who was the pitcher when Barry Bonds broke whatever he did?"
Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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