Mission Control for Playoffs

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While other teams deal with the complicated scenarios that factor into who does and does not attend the NFL playoffs, it is simple for the Ravens.

Following an impressive 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore (10-5) now has to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars to close out the regular season.

Win, and the Ravens are in.

With the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, the Ravens would play the AFC East winner, which comes down to the Miami Dolphins (10-5), New England Patriots (10-5) and the New York Jets (9-6).

Miami and New York play each other this weekend, and a Dolphins win at Giants Stadium clinches the division for them. The Patriots will sit atop the division if Miami loses and they beat the Buffalo Bills.

And, the Jets could seize the title if they topple the Dolphins and New England loses.

"Bottom line is all we have to do is get in the dance, win the game for 60 minutes," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "The only thing we can think about is another 60-minute game against Jacksonville next week. When we finish that one, then we can think about the playoffs."

But it goes further for the Ravens. Even if the 5-10 Jaguars prevail Sunday, Baltimore could still stamp their playoff ticket if the Patriots fall.

While the Ravens are definitely focused on what they must do to become a late-season spoiler victim, the outcome of the 1:00 p.m. Patriots-Bills tilt could influence what takes place at M&T Bank Stadium.

On Monday, the NFL announced the Ravens-Jaguars matchup would be rescheduled to 4:15 p.m., offering the opportunity for Baltimore to gauge their future as its game plays out.

That could influence how long the Ravens play some of their key players who are battling injuries.

Wideout Derrick Mason aggravated a partially-separated shoulder injury in Dallas and had to leave the game three times. Right tackle Willie Anderson went to the locker room in the second quarter to get X-rays on his ankle, but he returned in the second half.

Cornerback Samari Rolle took the sideline in the fourth quarter with a foot injury. Rookie running back Ray Rice was even declared inactive because of a deep bruise on his shin.

Those players are a small sample of the Ravens who would benefit from a week of rest, but head coach John Harbaugh said the team will prepare as it has all season.

"Our activations have to be made an hour and a half before game time, so where does that put us – halftime?" Harbaugh asked. "We're not going to know the outcome of that game when we decide who's going to be up and who's going to be active. Our approach is going to have to be to go into the game assuming that that game has to be won to make the playoffs. We've got to prepare that way anyway. We're assuming we're not going to clinch, and we'll play the game as if we haven't.

"Now, during the game if that changes, we can make the decision during the game. But as far as those kinds of personnel plans go, we aren't going to have the luxury to do that."

Even though the Ravens are thankful to have their destiny in their own hands, Harbaugh thinks that pride will still factor into how Baltimore finishes 2008.

All year, the coach has treated each week as a series of one-game seasons, and he doesn't expect anything different no matter how their postseason hopes unfold.

"I don't know that we're the type of team that's going to want to go out there and not win a football game no matter what's at stake," Harbaugh said. "It just so happens that we expect everything to be at stake, so we need to go win a football game. And if it turns out that not as much is at stake, I'm pretty sure our guys are going to try to go win the football game. That's just the personality of our team."

Linebacker Terrell Suggs agrees. After crashing a celebration planned for the last game at Texas Stadium, he is just as eager to close out the regular season at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are 7-1 all-time in finales.

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

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