John Harbaugh could not have been any more straightforward when talking about the significance of this week’s matchup with the New York Jets.
“I can’t think of a situation this year that could be more important than this game,” Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. “I could go back and say every game is important. There’s no game more important than this game.”
The Ravens (4-6) welcome the Jets (5-5) to town in a game that has significant playoff implications for both teams. The Jets have a one-game lead for the second wild-card spot, and there are five other teams in the AFC tied with the Ravens at 4-6.
Beating the Jets Sunday could tie the Ravens for the best record of teams fighting for the No. 2 wild-card spot, and prevent them from falling any further behind the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) in the division race. A win would also start off a three-game home stretch on the right note, setting up key matchups against the Steelers (4-6) and Vikings (2-8) in Weeks 13 and 14.
“If we don’t win this game, it’s going to be really tough,” Harbaugh said. “So that’s what it is. It couldn’t be more important.”
After playing three of their last four games on the road, the three-game home stand comes at a needed time for the Ravens. All three games will be against teams currently without winnings records, and the Ravens would control their playoff destiny with a string of victories.
Returning to Baltimore, where the Ravens are 36-8 over the last five years, provided hope after Sunday’s loss to the Bears.
“We have to win the next three at home,” said safety
The Ravens have made the playoffs every season since Harbaugh took over in 2008, but this is the steepest uphill climb his team has faced. The past two years the Ravens have built up leads in the standings and brought home AFC North titles.
They will have to go a different route this season to continue their streak of playing into January.
“We would all rather be sitting here talking about sitting atop the division and chasing homefield advantage or something like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something that we were shooting for. We wanted to be in that position. We haven’t done the things we needed to do to be in that position.
“But we’re in the hunt. And we’re playing two teams the next two weeks, at home, that are right there in the hunt with us. We’re chasing a division leader that we have in our sights and we’re playing again. We are right there.”
While the playoffs may seem a long way off, the Ravens are very much in the thick of the race.
Since 2008, five teams with 9-7 records have advanced to the playoffs and two teams with 8-8 records made the postseason. The Seattle Seahawks even won the NFC West with a 7-9 record in 2010. The Ravens earned a wild-card bid in 2009 with a 9-7 record.
If the Ravens win their next three games at home, they will sit at 7-6 heading into the final three games against the Lions, Patriots and Bengals.
“We are right there,” Harbaugh said. “We can do it and we’re good enough to do it. We have every tool we need, and all we have to do is go out and get it done. But that’s on us.
“And we believe that we have what it takes, and that’s up to us to prove it. We have to go prove it by winning these games.”