Ravens scouting three potential opponents

OWINGS MILLS -- As the Baltimore Ravens launch the weighty task of scouting three potential playoff opponents, there's one factor that Brian Billick no longer worries about.

Six seasons removed from the lack of playoff experience the Ravens overcame in 2000 when they claimed their lone Super Bowl title, Billick pronounced himself and the AFC North champions as ready for the postseason as they enjoy a first-round bye.

"I'm not as anxious as I was," Billick said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "I made the point in the first playoff run the anxiousness that I had facing the Denver Broncos and Mike Shanahan, who had two Super Bowl rings, and I had none.

"I knew I was going to get outcoached, but was figuring on my coaches and players to cover me and they did. Having been down this road before, obviously we are more familiar with what we are doing. There's a lot of confidence because of that."

Baltimore (13-3) earned an unprecedented first-round bye as the No. 2 AFC playoff seed behind the San Diego Chargers, and will host either the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots or the New York Jets next weekend in an AFC divisional playoff at M&T Bank Stadium.

Because the Ravens don't know which highest remaining seed they'll face in the second round of the postseason, they are compiling scouting reports on each team. The players have been given the week off and return to practice Saturday at the team's training complex.

"Obviously, with the multiple scenarios, we've got some work to do," Billick said Tuesday. "You have to backlog all the data you're going to need. Trying to hedge it and go, 'I think it's going to go this way' is a little too risky for me. It creates a lot of work."

If the two highest seeds -- the Patriots (12-4) and the Colts (12-4) -- win this weekend with respective victories over the Jets (10-6) and Kansas City Chiefs (9-7), the Ravens would wind up hosting Baltimore's former team, the Colts.

Regardless of who the Ravens play, it will be an opponent they have yet to face this season.

"The plus is that they haven't seen you, either," Billick said. "I don't know if it's a plus or a negative. That's part of the nice thing about the bye, that we have the time to bank some things so we can react quickly to whatever team presents itself for our first game."

The Ravens enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak along with victories in nine of their past 10 games.

Now, they're in a holding pattern as they wait to see who they're going to match up with.

Will it be a Patriots team led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick that's well-versed in what it takes to win it all?

Or the Colts and their dynamic offense headlined by quarterback Peyton Manning?

Or the upstart Jets, coached by former Ravens assistant Eric Mangini, who used to be a public relations intern for the original Cleveland Browns?

"All the guys are excited about the season we had, and we can enjoy it a little bit, but not for long," tight end Todd Heap said. " Once we figure out who we're playing, then our minds have to be on the game and getting ready."

When the Ravens return to work, they have some wrinkles to iron out offensively.

Baltimore struggled in the red zone in a 19-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills to close out the regular season, scoring no offensive touchdowns for the first time since Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and assumed play-calling duties.

The Ravens dropped passes, struggled to get the running game untracked or the deep pass and were prone to penalties.

"There are some things to work on always," Billick said. "We did some things that left ourselves vulnerable. We moved the ball very, very well. We needed to finish it off a little bit better."

After a turaround season engineered by the top-ranked defense and a resurgent offense spearheaded by quarterback Steve McNair, the Ravens get a breather that counteracts any potential loss of momentum from the time off, in Billick's opinion.

"No one in his right mind would choose not to have the bye," said Billick, who plans to have the players practice in full pads next Wednesday for the first time in several weeks.

"Physically, that helps even if it's just a couple of days. After a month of training camp and 20 games, they're tired of listening to me. ""I'm tired of listening to me. Even to just have that brief week, there's a freshness coming back that's important."

Since winning the Super Bowl in 2000, the Ravens have only won one playoff game, a 2001 wild-card victory over the Miami Dolphins. This team has adopted a Super Bowl-or bust mentality after achieving the best regular-season record in franchise history.

"That's the mindset you have to have," Billick said. "At the end of the year, there's only one team that's not [angry]. You'd have hard time finding anyone in the playoffs that says, ‘We're just happy to be here.

"Why go to the playoffs if not to win the Super Bowl? Why would you bother? It's a lot of time and energy. Failure not a failure, that's for you guys to comment on."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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