Ravens facing tough road to get to playoffs

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' twisting road back to the playoffs is filled with daunting obstacles as the remainder of their demanding schedule is dotted with undefeated teams, top quarterbacks and intimidating, speedy defenses.

If the Ravens (3-3) manage to earn a playoff berth after losing the past three games, they will have to beat the odds and duplicate the triumphant run they went on last season.

Unless the Ravens win seven of their final 10 games to reach 10 victories, they could find themselves closed out of the postseason. Traditionally, teams with nine or less wins don't always make the playoffs while 10 wins is usually an accurate barometer of playoff worthiness.

The crucible of a tough remaining schedule begins Sunday against the undefeated Denver Broncos (6-0) at M&T Bank Stadium.

"We control as a football team our destiny," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We control what we're going to be this year. That's always been the case.

"Because we haven't finished three games the way we wanted to finish three games doesn't mean that's changed. That's our responsibility, that's our challenge. I think guys are excited about that."

Besides the Broncos, the Ravens have two remaining games against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (6-0) and a rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2).

Six of the Ravens' games are against teams with winning records. Four are against division leaders.

Between the Steelers, Broncos, Colts, Bengals and Green Bay Packers (4-2), the Ravens are facing teams with a combined record of 26-6. There are also some likely wins expected against the Cleveland Browns (1-6), Detroit Lions (1-5), Chicago Bears (3-3) and the Oakland Raiders (2-5).

And a vulnerable pass defense that ranks 23rd overall and is allowing 241.5 yards per contest has impending matchups with Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger twice, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.

Last year, the Ravens went 7-3 down the stretch to finish 11-5 on their way to the AFC championship game.

"That doesn't guarantee anything," Harbaugh said. "Just because this team and every team is different, just because this team went through it last year doesn't mean that this team is going to carry them this year into any great heights. That's something you've got to make happen.

"We've got a 6-0 team coming in here that's basically leading the league in every statistical category across the board in all three phases. The challenge is for the next number of weeks. We're playing a schedule that's pretty impressive with what people have been able to accomplish."

The Ravens' margin for error is razor-thin.

Offensively, the Ravens' rank fifth in the NFL in total offense with an average of 393.2 yards per game.

Yet, the Ravens have lost their past three games by a total of 11 points through a series of late-game breakdowns.

Now, quarterback Joe Flacco has to lead the offense against some of the top defenses in the league with matchups against Denver (No. 2), Green Bay (No. 3), Pittsburgh (No. 8) and Indianapolis (No. 9).

The Ravens currently rank two games behind the Steelers and the Bengals in the AFC North.

And the Steelers are coming off an impressive victory over the previously undefeated Minnesota Vikings while the Bengals gave the Bears a 45-10 thrashing.

"Right now is not the time to make projections," tight end Todd Heap said. "Right now is the time to focus on our next game. We can't really look forward. We've got to make sure we live for right now. We don't have a lot of room for error right now."

Following a 3-0 start, the Ravens are at a crossroads.

Any more big missteps along the way could be truly costly.

To improve their prospects, the Ravens will need to upgrade their pass rush, susceptibility against the deep pass and shore up a usually stingy run defense.

"All we can do right now is take one game at a time and go try to stack wins on top of wins and see where we are at the end," Flacco said. "I think as long as we do that, then we'll be all right."

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