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For the Ravens, that means earning a division title, securing a first-round bye and getting to host at least one playoff game, as opposed to having to serve as a playoff wild card for the umpteenth straight year.
The difference in those two scenarios has never seemed starker.
If the Ravens win Sunday, they will likely earn the AFC's No. 2 seed behind the Patriots. That means a week of rest followed by the franchise's first home playoff game in six years.
The Ravens would need to play four good quarters at M&T Bank Stadium, where they're unbeaten this year, to reach the conference championship game; four good quarters in Baltimore, against a lower seed, to put themselves within one win of the Super Bowl.
It's hardly a forgiving road, but it's certainly do-able.
If the Ravens lose Sunday, though, they will find themselves on an all-too-familiar road that is far bumpier.
They would likely cede the division title to the Steelers – a particularly depressing development given their sweep of Pittsburgh this year – and likely have to travel throughout January.
As opposed to having to play four good quarters at home to reach the title game, they would have to play eight good quarters on the road to get to the same place – eight good away-from-home quarters from a team that has struggled on the road, losing four of seven, in 2011.
It wouldn't be an impossible task. The Ravens have fared well on the road in the playoffs before, reaching the title game in 2008. They could easily mount another run.
But I get the feeling the entire organization is not in the mood to take on that challenge yet again this season, not after sweeping the Steelers and controlling the division race down the stretch.
Outspoken in their desire to host a playoff game, the Ravens would be disappointed to settle for the same, old alternative.
So … see what I mean? While the Bengals have a lot to play for, they're kind of in a no-lose situation as overachievers who have surprisingly finagled their way into the playoff picture. They're probably not going all the way this year with a rookie under center. In that sense, the stakes aren't as high for them.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have entertained legitimate dreams of going far in the playoffs – entertained them for several years, in fact. Now they're in great position to make it happen, needing no help from anyone.
All they need to do is win one more game Sunday – a game that, let's face it, could say everything about how this season is remembered.
John Eisenberg covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.