Ravens prefer to enter playoffs on a roll

OWINGS MILLS -- There couldn't be much more clarity involved in the Baltimore Ravens' promising playoff outlook with the exception of a scheduling wrinkle that could allow them to back into the postseason even if they lose Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Ravens (10-5) have a grip on their playoff destiny and currently hold the sixth and final postseason ticket in the AFC with the second wild-card berth.

Win and they're assured of their first playoff appearance in two years and would travel to play the AFC East title winner in the first round of the playoffs. The NFL shifted the Ravens' kickoff to 4:15 p.m. against the Jaguars (5-10), a timing twist that means Baltimore might already have locked up the final AFC wild-card spot before the game starts since the New England Patriots are playing the Buffalo Bills at 1 p.m. A Patriots loss would drop them to 10-6, but would automatically send Baltimore to the playoffs because of a superior conference record.

"Bottom line, we're right where we need to be," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "One more game and then we can talk about the playoffs. All we have to do is get into the da nce."

The Ravens also own the tiebreaking edge over the loser of the Miami Dolphins-New York Jets game, which will decide the AFC East champion if the Patriots lose to Buffalo. The Ravens own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins if they win and would have a better record than the Jets if they win. Since the Ravens have several injured players, including wide receiver Derrick Mason (dislocated left shoulder), offensive tackle Willie Anderson (sprained left ankle), running back Ray Rice (calf contusion) and cornerback Samari Rolle (sprained foot), they could opt to rest those players one week removed from the opening round of the playoffs. However, the Ravens will have to make final decisions about the active roster prior to the completion of the Patriots-Bills game. So, they're basically approaching it as if they absolutely have to beat the Jaguars to stay alive in the playoff chase.

"We're assuming we're not going to clinch, and we'll play the game as if we haven't," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Now if that changes, we can make decisions during the game.

"Right now, obviously the approach is we need to win the game and all hands on deck. As far as those kind of personnel plans go, we aren't going to have the luxury to do that."

The Ravens have won eight of their past 10 games, so there's something to be said about generating momentum.

"We've got one more game to get," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "The thought about the playoffs is there, but we have to defend our home turf."

Coming off a 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys where the Ravens wore Dallas down in the fourth quarter with back-breaking, long touchdown runs from Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, they want to keep the train rolling as much as possible.

So, the Ravens are leaning strongly toward placing a victory as a higher priority than rest and recuperation by resting starters in the regular-season finale.

"I don't know if we have a preference, per se," Harbaugh said. "I think we want to win the game. You look at our guys and our football team, and I don't know that we're the type of team that's going to want to go out there and not want to win, no matter what's at stake."

Because of their bye week being shifted to the second week of the season due to Hurricane Ike causing a game against the Houston Texans to be postponed, the Ravens are preparing for their 15th consecutive game without a week off. Nonetheless, they are looking for another win and achieving an 11-5 mark one year removed from a 5-11 disaster that included a franchise-record nine-game losing streak.

A Jaguars upset appears unlikely since Jacksonville has lost five of its past six games.

"It just so happens that we expect everything to be at stake, so we need to win the football game," Harbaugh said. "If it turns out that not much is at stake, I'm pretty sure our guys are going to try and win the foot ball game. That's just the personality of our football team."

Although it's an obscure long shot, the Ravens can also clinch a playoff berth with a tie coupled by a Miami loss or by tying Jacksonville and New England losing or tying.

The Ravens have some extra scouting to do this week, too, because they could face any one of three different opponents in the first round.

They could either be headed to Miami if they win, New England if they defeat the Bills in Buffalo and the Jets beat the Dolphins or to New York if they hold off the Dolphins and the Patriots lose.

"We do look at it from an advance standpoint, we have certain coaches on our staff who always advance a week out because you've got to do breakdowns and scouting reports and things like that," Harbaugh said. "So, it's a tougher task for those guys this week because there are three potential opponents for us. Our coaches are doing three times the work this week that they would normally do. As far as the players and coaches are game-planning, it's strictly Jacksonville.

"We've got our hands full. We know what the expectations were for that team coming into the season. They've obviously had a disappointing season, and that only fuels them more in a game like this. It's going to be a very, very tough, rough football game because that's the kind of football team that they are."

Historically, the Ravens have finished the season in strong fashion.

They have won their final regular-season game at home for five consecutive years.

"All we have to do is get in the dance," Lewis said. "This team has its own identity, but it's a great identity."

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