Ravens need to beat Raiders to make playoffs
OAKLAND – In an NFL season when it seems like almost every week some also-ran manages to knock off a contender, the Baltimore Ravens have remained in playoff contention by avoiding that upset bug.
If the Ravens can manage to pull that off one more time in Sunday’s finale against the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore will be headed back to the playoffs.
While beating a team finishing its seventh straight double-digit loss season may seem like an easy task for a club looking to make the playoffs, the Ravens (8-7) have watched the Raiders (5-10) play spoiler enough this season to know not to overlook them.
“This is a team that has beaten and can beat anybody in the league,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve done it, they’ve done it this year, they’ve done it on the road. I look at what they did against Philadelphia, a team that I’m very familiar with, and of course Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in our division, so that just says it all. We don’t have to sit here and throw out any cliches about respect or anything else. It’s a proven fact.”
As bad as Oakland has looked in losing to last-place Kansas City, Washington and Cleveland and dropping five games overall by at least 20 points, the Raiders have also beaten four teams with winning records.
Two of those wins came against first-place Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The other two came against Denver and Pittsburgh, two other teams in the AFC wild-card race with the Ravens. It’s those wins that helped put the Ravens in control this week.
Baltimore will get into the postseason with a win, not needing to spend any time watching the scoreboard or figuring out intricate tiebreakers. With a loss, the Ravens are eliminated.
“Our goal is to be spoiler this week and come in and put the Ravens out of the playoffs. Since we can’t get in, we don’t want them to get in either,” Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “You want to end the season with a win. You want to have a little bit of momentum going into the next year. You want to have something to build off of. You don’t want to finish the last two games with two losses. So I think guys have a lot of pride and want to go out and win a game.”
Since Harbaugh joined the Ravens before last season, Baltimore is the only team in the NFL that has not lost a game to a team with a losing record.
The nine teams with five or fewer wins this season have combined to win 12 games against teams that head into the final week having clinched a playoff spot or in contention for one. Oakland has four of those wins.
“We’re not overlooking anybody in this league,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I don’t care who it is. I don’t care what their record is or what their situation is. Bottom line, this is the National Football League and on any given Sunday anyone can be beat by a lot. The Raiders are a gifted ballclub and they’ve shown that in spurts.”
The Raiders have little to play for besides pride in this final week of yet another disappointing season. They are looking to win six games for the first time since 2002, ending a record run of 11-loss seasons at six.
There are players looking for individual accomplishments, such as Shane Lechler trying to set the NFL records for gross and net punting average in a season. There are players performing for their next contract, like quarterback Charlie Frye. Coach Tom Cable is trying to keep his job.
“We got something to play for, too,” defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “Obviously we’re not going to the playoffs. But we’re playing for all these guys in this locker room, and we’re not just going to go out there and say, hey, ‘Here’s the game, go ahead and go to the playoffs.’ That isn’t the case. I think if you feel that way, you shouldn’t play.”
The Raiders managed to play spoiler last season, winning the finale at Tampa Bay 31-24 to knock the Buccaneers out of the playoffs. The win helped the Eagles to sneak in as the sixth seed and go all the way to the NFC championship.
The Raiders would like to do the same to the Ravens this season.
“They’re going to be coming in here fighting and scratching and doing everything they can to get their spot because they have to win to do that,” Cable said. “For us it’s exciting, because we have our own goals: winning the sixth game and trying to improve that way; winning the last game of the year; trying to go into the offseason feeling positive about yourselves.
“Also, you get some joy out of trying to knock them out of the playoffs. That’s what this game is about and that’s the way we should approach it.”