Despite a 2-5 start and a sex scandal that has ensnared four players and
affected the entire team's reputation, the Vikings are on the brink of making
the playoffs. They need to win out and receive assistance from other teams to
earn a wild-card berth in the crowded NFC playoff jumble.
The Ravens' stakes are less tangible, defined by pride, a desperate grab for job security and a strong desire to not repeat this losing campaign. Following a 48-3 blowout of the Green Bay Packers on Monday night, Baltimore has won three of its past five games and has a 5-2 mark at home heading into this home finale.
"We have to as a team go out on a winning note just to have confidence," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We started off rough, but we could say we finished off good. That's something we can be optimistic about heading into the offseason."
For the Ravens, finishing strongly could help erase some of the sting from a season that went awry a long time ago.
The Ravens endured an entire first half without a first down in Nashville, an emotional meltdown in Detroit and an embarrassing belt-whipping in Cincinnati along with several other indignities such as an 0-7 road record.
"You don't want to lose 48-0 going out," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You definitely want to finish strong. That's how you can build for next year. We would love to finish 7-9 rather than the other way around, 5-11."
Now, the Ravens have an opportunity to stride, not limp into next season unlike last year when they lost four of their final six games.
"This game means a lot to them, but it means more to us," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "It's for our momentum and our energy moving into next season."
The Ravens have a reference point that legitimizes what a strong crescendo can mean in terms of dividends collected in the following year.
In 1999, the Ravens won four of their last five games. That run has often been pointed toward as the turning point for the franchise as they won the Super Bowl in the ensuing season.
"It can't hurt," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Can you quantify it? I'm sure there's any number of statistics that can go either way, but I know it can't hurt.
"For us, this is a game with playoff implications. We've got to go in with that attitude because I'm damn sure they are. I know what they're after. We'd better match that intensity or we'll be on the flip side of what we saw Monday night."
Added offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo: "To grab something to motivate you, if we can be a spoiler, that would be great."
Plus, Billick enters the last two weeks of the season without any public word from owner Steve Bisciotti on whether he'll retain the coach for an eighth season.
"This season has been very disappointing, we felt we came into the season with very high expectations and a very good football team," Billick said. "It's been a long year."
It's an especially critical game for quarterback Kyle Boller as the clock is ticking on the last two last weeks of an evaluation that will determine if he'll be the starter in 2006.
The Ravens are scrutinizing Boller to determine if his franchise-record 136.8 passer rating against Green Bay was truly an indicator of his ability, or just an aberration.
"Kyle has to prepare as if last week didn't happen," Mason said. "Now, you've got to prove yourself another week and go out there and do the same things you did Monday night. It can't be a one-game thing."
Boller, who benefited from improved pass protection and hard-nosed running from Jamal Lewis, made sound decisions against the Packers. He recognized blitzes and changed protections and plays to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
"Hopefully whatever he did last week, he can do the same thing," center Mike Flynn said. "Our job is to give him that protection so that he can accomplish that feat again."
To be respected and counted on as a consistent, viable NFL passer, though, the 2003 first-round draft pick recognizes that he must approach, if not come close to duplicating last week's performance.
"I've gone through a lot and have been forced to grow up," Boller said. "I've been injured. I've dealt with criticism and had a little bit of success. I've just got to keep working."
In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the
original on RavensInsider.Com