Stuck in a four-way tie for the best record in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens only can focus on their own business over their final three games.
Baltimore looks to clinch its fourth consecutive playoff berth and keep pace for the conference’s No. 1 seed when it visits the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed the Ravens as 2 1/2-point road favorites, with the total set at 44 1/2.
The Ravens (10-3) have won at least 10 games for the third time in four seasons, though they’re making a push to secure their first playoff bye since 2006 after last Sunday’s 24-10 victory over winless Indianapolis.
Baltimore, seeking to win five straight for the first time since Oct. 29-Nov. 26, 2006, contends it is not looking too far into the future despite what’s at stake down the stretch.
“The object is just to win the next game, more than anything probably,” coach John Harbaugh said. “If that happens, we pretty much know where the chips are going to fall.”
Ray Rice, who exceeded the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season with a 103-yard performance against the Colts, echoed his coach’s statement.
“We have to play the San Diego Chargers. That’s the next task at hand,” Rice said.
While most of the Ravens may be focusing on the present, Terrell Suggs still eyes the team’s ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. A win this week would help Baltimore keep pace with New England (playing at red-hot Denver), Pittsburgh (at San Francisco) and Houston (hosting Carolina) for the conference’s top seed.
“Championship teams, they don’t settle for what’s happening right now. Every week, they try to get better,” Suggs said. “We’re doing a lot of things good, but we have to correct things and get better at the things we’re not doing so well. We’re still not satisfied. This team is hungry.”
The stellar play of Suggs has been a major reason the Ravens have won the last four games without star linebacker Ray Lewis, who has been nursing a turf toe injury.
Suggs has a career-high and AFC-leading 13 sacks after registering three last week while also forcing three fumbles. Though Harbaugh expects Lewis to play this week, Baltimore is sure to rely on Suggs to continue at his same level.
“Terrell has lifted his play. I think he’s stronger and faster than he’s ever been,” Harbaugh said. “He’s worked really hard. He works hard in the weight room. He’s one of the leaders in that.”
Chargers coach Norv Turner is well aware of Suggs’ ability, as well as Baltimore’s third-ranked defense that allows only 278.1 yards and 15.5 points per game.
“They’re as talented as any team in the league,” Turner said. “They’re obviously the best defense in the league, in my mind. They’re great on third down, they’re physical, they’re a great pass-rushing group.”
Turner’s squad will have to match that effort if it plans to hold onto its faint playoff hopes.
San Diego (6-7) is two games behind Denver and the New York Jets for a wild-card spot, though it has won two straight after crushing Buffalo 37-10 last week.
The Chargers have outscored their opponents 75-24 over the past two games, while the defense has forced four turnovers to help end a six-game losing streak that may be too difficult to overcome.
They’re not giving up hope quite yet, however.
“Until they say we’re done, there’s always a chance,” said safety Eric Weddle, who converted a first down on a fake punt and had an interception against the Bills. “Even if we were done, we’d be playing our hearts out.”
Philip Rivers played another solid game, throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions over his last three games.
Ryan Mathews ran for 114 yards for his third straight 100-yard game, though it will be tough to earn a fourth. Baltimore ranks second in the NFL allowing only 85.8 rushing yards per game.
San Diego, meanwhile, is tied for 23rd against the run giving up 128.9 yards per game. That may not bode well against Rice, who ranks second in the AFC in rushing behind Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Rice, though, was held to 36 yards on only eight carries in the most recent meeting – a 31-26 Baltimore victory Sept. 20, 2009.
Rivers threw for a then-career-high 436 yards in that contest, including 141 and a touchdown to Vincent Jackson.
The Ravens have won four of the last five matchups, and this will be the third straight meeting in San Diego.