Baltimore on the road again
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens won three more games than last season, went 7-1 at home and finished in a tie for the second-best record in the AFC.
Those accomplishments netted them nothing more than another wild-card berth, which means the Ravens again face the daunting task of winning three straight away games to qualify for the Super Bowl.
If there was a theme song for Baltimore in the playoffs, it would be that familiar tune by Willie Nelson that includes the phrase: "Our way is on the road again."
This marks the third consecutive season under coach John Harbaugh that the Ravens have qualified as a wild-card team. Baltimore made it to the AFC title game two years ago before falling to Pittsburgh, and last year they upset New England in the first round before losing at Indianapolis.
Baltimore won its lone Super Bowl title after the 2000 season as a wild-card entrant, but that postseason began with a home game against Denver. The only way the Ravens could play at home this season would be in the AFC title game against the No. 6 seed New York Jets.
Knowing that scenario is a long shot, the Ravens intend to make the most of the wild card they were dealt.
"Our track record says we'll play anybody at any time, anywhere," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Anytime you can pack up a great defense like that and take it on the road, you have a chance to win."
It's not as if the Ravens haven't been in this position before.
"I think it's a benefit, the fact that we've been through it two years in a row," Harbaugh said. "We wanted like crazy to not go through it. We wanted that home field, but we didn't get it done. So here we are."
New England (14-2) enters with the best record in the AFC, followed by Pittsburgh (12-4) and the Ravens. Although Baltimore finished tied with the Steelers atop the AFC North, Pittsburgh won the tiebreaker by virtue of a better record in the division.
Thus, Pittsburgh gets a bye before playing at home next weekend. The Ravens, meanwhile, must play Sunday in Kansas City against the AFC West champions, who won two fewer games than Baltimore.
"(San Diego coach) Norv Turner told me ... that if you win all your home games and you split on the road, you'll finish 12-4 and host a playoff game every year," Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said. "Well, except this year. It's kind of a peculiar thing that doesn't happen very often, but everyone here should be proud to finish 12-4."
The Ravens have never faced the Chiefs in the playoffs, so at least this journey through the playoffs will feature a different first step.
"We saw them the first game last year and haven't seen them since," Harbaugh said, referring to Baltimore's 38-24 win in September 2009. "We just have to study them over the next few days and really get to know them. I think we understand how they're trying to build. It's a lot of the New England philosophy. ... (They) want to run the ball, stop the run, play well in the conditions, have good quarterback play. It's going to be a big challenge."
If the Ravens win, a matchup against New England or Pittsburgh will most likely follow. And if they survive that, a third straight road game looms on a trip they hope ends in Dallas for the Super Bowl.
"There's only one winner and nobody asks who took second place," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It's been years around here we've been No. 1 in defense, No. 1 in (forcing) turnovers, but we have no hardware to show for it. Anything less than Dallas is a failure."