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Ravens' Road to the Playoffs


After beating the Pittsburgh Steelers to close a strong November, the Ravens are hoping to play their best football in the month of December.

Looking at the current standings, Baltimore is not one of the six teams in the AFC that would make the postseason. But, there are no more division leaders left on the schedule after playing six earlier in the year. The Green Bay Packers and Steelers are the only two upcoming opponents with winning records.

And, the Ravens are tied with Pittsburgh for the conference's weakest remaining slate, as their final five opponents are a combined 22-33 (.400).

"I would like to think, for us, that our mentality is the same but just gets better – we just apply it better," said head coach **John Harbaugh**. "We want to be the very best team we can be – the most aggressive, the most physical team that we can be at all times.

"Hopefully by December, we're the best team that we've been all year. But the most important football is going to be played in December, that's for sure."

The Ravens essentially played their way back into the conversation after being counted out following a middling .500 start.

A 20-17 win over the Steelers last Sunday gave Baltimore a tiebreaker over its AFC North rival and helped the Ravens keep stride with the teams leading the race.

At 6-5, the Ravens are behind the Denver Broncos (7-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) for the AFC Wild Card.

The Broncos have a solid opportunity for 10 wins because they still play the struggling Oakland Raiders once and Kansas City Chiefs twice. But the Ravens own the tiebreaker over Denver after beating the Broncos in Week 8, meaning Baltimore would get preference if the two teams finished with the same record.

Jacksonville can also be caught. The Jaguars must face a spirited Houston Texans squad, the unpredictable Miami Dolphins and the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. That is before they close the season with the New England Patriots in Foxborough.

Defeating the Packers (7-4) would be yet another mile marker along the way.

"You have some devastating losses along the way, and in a one-week period everybody feels like, 'Well, you're not this; you're not that,'" Harbaugh explained. "Then you win a couple of games and you're all this and you're all that. It's really a long season in this league."

The Ravens have typically performed well later in the season.

In November and December, the Ravens are 49-32 (.605) all-time, which is the NFL's seventh-best mark since 2000. The Ravens went 7-2 in November and December in 2008. They obviously feel the gravity of these games.

"That's what separates the teams that are going to make the playoffs from the teams that don't," said wideout **Derrick Mason**. "There are teams that, for the most part, that are healthy, and there are teams that are not. Late November and into December – and the first week of January – that's what separates the teams. So, if you're going to start doing anything, you've got to start playing football in those months because if you don't then it's going to be hard to make the playoffs.

"It's kind of like college football: If you lose early, it's not too bad. But if you lose late, it's bad on you in the rankings. So, everyone understands in this league that you have to play good football come late November and into December, as well as January."

The Ravens are built to win in the wintry climes that late months can offer with a potentially smash-mouth rushing attack, a strong-armed quarterback and a solid defense. Mason believes the team has the mentality it needs to win in November and December, as well.

"I think the way that we work and what we do on the field during OTAs and minicamps equips us for the long-haul," he said. "Since I've been here, November and December have been good months for us. That's a testament to how hard we work in the offseason and during the season."

As Harbaugh opined, it has been a long season leading up to this point, but the Ravens still have a long way to go to accomplish their goal.

The Ravens started out fast at times and slow at others. To reach the playoffs, however, they will need to keep gaining momentum for a strong finish.

"It's a series of sprints," Harbaugh said. "We've got another one this week against the Packers, and it's going to be just as meaningful, just as important as the last one."

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