OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens have no intentions of treating their regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals as a time for resting starters, a luxury usually reserved for division leaders with nothing at stake for the postseason.
Even though claiming the AFC North division crown remains a long shot for the Ravens (11-4), they haven’t given up on the prospect of the Cleveland Browns pulling off an upset against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We’re pleased with the opportunity to compete in the playoffs, but the regular season’s not over yet," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There’s still something to be accomplished in the regular season, which we’re going to take a run at and see what happens this weekend."
The Ravens and Steelers are tied for first in the division but the Steelers hold the tiebreaker, thus the need to root for Cleveland. Both games are set for 1 p.m. kickoffs on Sunday, but even if the Steelers get comfortably ahead, the Ravens don’t plan to pull their starters.
"I don’t look at it that way," Harbaugh said. "I’m sure we’ll be watching the scoreboard to see how the game’s going, but we’re not pulling anybody out of the game. We’re going to try to win the game."
Under the scenario of a Baltimore victory coupled with a Steelers loss next weekend, the Ravens would win the division title and earn a first-round bye. The most likely scenario, however, would have the fifth-seeded Ravens traveling to the Indianapolis Colts in a rematch of last season’s AFC divisional playoff defeat.
"The only thing you can ask for in this business is to get in the dance," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Now, we have to take care of our business against Cincinnati, a team that beat us earlier in the year, a team in our division."
Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Ravens see no reason to not win as many games as possible and see what happens. They could potentially enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak.
"It’s our thing, it’s the situation we face," Harbaugh said. "So, we’re playing for something. Heck, it’d be great to have the No. 1 seed all wrapped up and be able to rest some guys, but we’re not in that situation.
"We’ve got something to play for. You continue to play, and you keep momentum going and you continue to improve."
If the Ravens don’t win the division they’ll be the fifth seed and play the No. 4 seed, which will be Indianapolis, Jacksonville or Kansas City.
The Colts win the AFC South title with a win or tie against the Tennessee Titans or a Jaguars loss against the Houston Texans.
The Jaguars win that division with a win or a tie coupled with an Indianapolis loss.
The only way the AFC South champion wouldn’t be the fourth seed and play Baltimore would be if the Colts won and the AFC West champion Chiefs lost to the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens would play at Kansas City under that scenario.
The Ravens have already begun compiling advance scouting reports on each of their potential playoff opponents through their pro personnel department, which is run by former Browns safety Vince Newsome.
"We’ve got that information," Harbaugh said. "This week, our coaches will advance based on a percentage basis of a likelihood of who we’re going to play.
"You just gather as much information as you possibly can, but the focus really is the Cincinnati Bengals. The work is done behind the scenes."
And there’s also the matter of a three-game losing streak to the Bengals and avenging a 15-10 loss earlier this season in which quarterback Joe Flacco threw four interceptions.
The Bengals (4-11) just eliminated the San Diego Chargers from playoff contention and their passing game is cranked up even though leading receiver Terrell Owens is out for the season and Chad Ochocinco is hobbled.
"They were lighting it up," Harbaugh said. "To me, they’re the Bengals right now that we expected them to be all year. They’re playing at an incredibly high level. They’re going to be incredibly motivated to come in here and make a statement. They’ve gotten after us pretty good three times in a row, so that’s motivation for us, too."
Two years removed from being kicked out of the playoffs by the Steelers in the AFC title game and back in the playoffs for the third consecutive year, the Ravens are determined to make this a significant run.
"There’s nothing like playoff football the atmosphere and there’s only 12 teams that get a chance to play for the Super Bowl," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Hopefully, we’ll learn from our mistakes these past two years and let’s get ourselves a legitimate run at this thing."