Eisenberg: Ravens On 'Hard' Road To Super Bowl


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Remember what Terrell Suggs said in frustration after the loss in San Diego temporarily handed control of the AFC North back to Pittsburgh, meaning the Ravens might have to take the "harder" way yet again this year?

"We have a vacation home in hell," Suggs shrugged, meaning the Ravens were used to being at a disadvantage, staring down longer odds in January.

But after Sunday's win, "this year (in the playoffs) takes on a different character for the Ravens than the last three years," Harbaugh said Monday.

Does it ever. They are definitely not vacationing in hell this year.

They've gone the other way – maybe not all the way to heaven, but certainly to a "vacation home," a set of playoff circumstances, as welcoming as any they have ever experienced.

They have to win two games to get to the Super Bowl, instead of their usual three. At least one of those games will be at home, where the Ravens are undefeated this year and, as Suggs said in November, "we're a different team, a phenomenal team."

Two wins to get to the Super Bowl; two wins against ... who? They don't know yet, but no matter who it is, they'll like their chances.

The one team seeded ahead of them in the AFC has plenty going for it, no question, mainly quarterback Tom Brady and a magnificent offense.

But the New England Patriots also have one of the worst defenses in NFL history, statistically speaking – 31st in the league this year, with the second-highest-ever total of passing yardage allowed in a season.

No team has ever won a Super Bowl with a defense that forgiving.

As for the other four AFC playoff qualifiers, the Ravens have already beaten three this season, going 5-0 against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Houston.

Pittsburgh is plenty tough, as always, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is playing on a bum ankle that isn't going to heal until after the season. Houston is down to its third-string signal-caller, a rookie, because of injuries, and faded late in the regular season, losing its last three games. Cincinnati is a surprise qualifier with a tough road ahead.

The other qualifier, Denver, is a .500 team on a three-game losing streak.

The team with the best chance of beating the Ravens could be, well, the Ravens. You know what I mean.

But absent another of the stinkers they have occasionally produced this year, they're looking good. The optimism suddenly flowering in Ravenstown is entirely justified.

This positive assessment comes with all the usual caveats, of course. Nothing is assured. Far from it. The Ravens were in the exact same position in the 2006 playoffs and lost at home after getting a week off.

The top two seeds haven't reached the AFC title game in seven years. Strange things happen.

But all you can do in the regular season is put yourself in the right place to go for it, and boy, this time the Ravens have really done it..

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.

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