OWINGS MILLS — One day after Christmas, the Baltimore Ravens have an opportunity to unwrap their biggest present of the holiday season.
The Ravens are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth, and they won’t necessarily require any assistance this weekend.
In position to earn the fifth playoff seed in the AFC, the Ravens (10-4) can assure themselves of that status with a road victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns (5-9).
“All I want for Christmas is a win on Sunday,” running back Ray Rice said. “May God bless us with a great victory on Sunday, everybody stay healthy, and come back to Baltimore and celebrate the playoff berth.”
Even with a loss, the Ravens have four other playoff scenarios where they can make it to the postseason provided other AFC teams cooperate with a combination of wins or losses.
That’s not their primary or secondary focus, though.
“I don’t think we’ve been scoreboard watching, we’ve been focused on every single week,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve had a lot at stake every single week, and that’s no less this week.
“Obviously, you get to the point when finally you can clinch that playoff berth. That’s right there in your hands, and it’s very tangible. It’s a lot of motivation.”
For some players like veteran defensive end Cory Redding, making the playoffs would be an unprecedented experience.
Redding joined the Ravens this offseason after previous stints with losing teams like the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks. This is his first winning season in the NFL after playing for the winless Lions two seasons ago.
“It means everything, man,” Redding said. “The focus is on getting to 11 wins and just getting this win to keep our destiny alive.”
Of course, the Ravens can also make the playoffs if the Kansas City Chiefs lose and the Jacksonville Jaguars lose or tie or if the Chiefs lose and the Indianapolis Colts lose or tie or if the San Diego Chargers lose or tie and the Jaguars lose or tie, or if the Chargers lose or tie and the Colts lose or tie.
The Chiefs are playing the Tennessee Titans at home while the Jaguars are hosting the Washington Redskins, the Colts travel to play the Oakland Raiders and the Chargers play at the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Ravens are two games ahead of the Jaguars and the Chargers in the AFC wild-card race.
“It don’t get no better,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “We’ve been on a journey, journey, journey and now we find we’re at a great place where we control our own destiny. We don’t need nobody to do this and nobody to do that.”
Over the past two games, the Ravens have gotten off to fast starts with halftime leads of 21-7 and 21-14 against the Houston Texans and the New Orleans Saints.
They haven’t scored a second-half touchdown offensively in the past five games.
“That means we’ve got to take care of business,” wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “We can’t go out there and allow ourselves to get behind in the game. We’ve got to go out there like we did this last game and like we did in Houston and put points up early.”
The Ravens are technically tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) atop the AFC North following the Steelers’ loss to the New York Jets last week.
In order to win the division crown for the first time under Harbaugh, the Ravens would need to win out and for the Steelers to lose to the Carolina Panthers or the Browns.
A division title would allow the Ravens the advantage of a first-round bye.
“This is a big game for us, but we can’t shut it down,” outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “We’ve got one more after this week to go and obviously you just want to get in the playoffs, but we’ve still got a shot at winning the division.
“If Pittsburgh can stumble and we can get two wins, that’s what our main goal is. We’d like to get the second spot. Yeah, knowing we can go out and get a win and clinch a playoff spot is big.”