Ravens chasing home-field advantage

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have crystallized their agenda into its purest form. Although clinching the AFC North title could be within the Ravens' grasp as soon as next Monday night provided they defeat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and the Cincinnati Bengals fall to the Indianapolis Colts a day later, the Ravens have a grander goal in mind.

Off to the best start in franchise history, the Ravens (10-3) are tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the second-best record in the AFC and have designs on clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
However, Baltimore is seeded third behind the Colts because of Indianapolis' superior record against common opponents. If the season ended today, the Ravens would host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a wild-card playoff.
With remaining games against the Browns (4-8), Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7) and Buffalo Bills (5-7), the Ravens still have an excellent chance of clinching one of the top two playoff berths and a first-round bye. Plus, the Ravens have the easiest schedule of the three top-ranked teams in the AFC.
"I would love nothing more than to have a championship game here in the city of Baltimore," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday one day after his team's 20-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that turned the usually faithful Arrowhead Stadium crowd against the home team as an 18-game home winning streak in December was snapped. "I would enjoy that, the fans would enjoy that and so would the organization. But that's as real and as huge for the players."
One game behind the San Diego Chargers for the top record in the AFC and the corresponding home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Ravens would have the tiebreaker edge over the Chargers due to their 16-13 victory over San Diego on Oct. 1.
If Baltimore wins the remainder of its games in the regular season and doesn't leapfrog the Chargers, they would at least have created a strong bid for the No. 2 spot and a first-round bye along with the boost of a four-game winning streak.
"Beyond what the circumstances are of what this win means -- home field through the playoffs, the bye and all the other things -- you've got to have a certain momentum going into the playoffs," Billick said. "I'm supremely confident that this team knows what it has to do over the next three weeks. If we can come through that, everything that we want will be there for us in terms of positioning for the playoffs."
On more than one occasion this season, having time off has paid dividends for the Ravens. Following their bye week in October and firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel after a two-game losing streak with Billick installing himself to call the plays, the Ravens won their next five games.
After the Ravens' 13-7 loss to the Bengals on a short work week that cost them a chance to become the second-earliest team to clinch a playoff berth and division title since the NFL's advent of the eight-division format in 2000, Billick gave the players five days off. They responded by dominating the Chiefs with five sacks, three turnovers and 376 yards of total offense.
"This team has shown twice what they can do when getting a little time off," Billick said. "That bye is huge. I don't have to mention it much; they're very acutely aware of it."
Although the Ravens don't face a demanding closing act to the regular season, Billick didn't sound concerned about his players not taking their opponents seriously and trying to coast into the postseason.
"They will not overlook an opponent," Billick said. "We will play well or we will not play well against the Cleveland Browns, but I will promise you that if we don't play well, it will not be because we are thinking we can just walk out on Sunday and beat somebody."
During the 2000 season, the Ravens won on the road in the playoffs against the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders en route to beating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Baltimore traversed that playoff road as the fourth seed in the AFC after winning its last seven games in the regular season.
One defining aspect of the Ravens' turnaround this season from a 6-10 campaign has been a dramatic improvement on the road.
After entering the season with the NFL's longest road losing streak of 11 games after going 0-8 away from M&T Bank Stadium last season, Baltimore is 5-2 on the road this season following wins at Tampa Bay, Cleveland, New Orleans, Tennessee and Kansas City.
"To win on the road is huge for us, because the playoffs are on the road and the Super Bowl is on the road," safety Ed Reed said. "You never know what you're going to get in the playoffs with a hostile environment."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

Ravens Insider Top Stories