OWINGS MILLS, Md. – If the Baltimore Ravens are to play in January, they must excel in December.
The Ravens are among six AFC teams with a 7-5 record. They face one of those clubs on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, and there is no understating the importance of getting a victory.
"Obviously, with the way the AFC is stacked, it's playoff time," guard Marshal Yanda said Wednesday. "We've got to win no matter what."
By losing to San Diego 34-33 last Sunday, Baltimore missed a chance to create some separation from the rest of the pack. The victory left the Chargers at 8-4 and gave them the tiebreaker over the Ravens should the teams finish tied for a wild-card spot
The Miami game is significant for the same reason, although coach John Harbaugh said, "There are so many teams in the mix right now, you just have to win."
Meaning, there's too much time left in the season for the Ravens to concern themselves with tiebreaker scenarios.
"We're just thinking about getting a win, which is the same thing we were thinking about last week," tight end Owen Daniels said. "All those other details we can't control at this point. It's all about worrying about we can control: how we play, and winning the game."
The Ravens still have a shot at capturing the AFC North, but they trail first-place Cincinnati by 1 1/2 games. The Bengals (8-3-1) face Pittsburgh (7-5) on Sunday, so if Baltimore doesn't win in Miami, its chances of claiming the division crown will severely worsen.
The wild card appears to be the best bet for the Ravens to get back into the postseason after missing out last year for the first time in six seasons.
"There are a lot of teams bunched up with basically the chance to control their own destiny," Daniels said. "The good thing is, we get to play a couple of those teams and it's really in your hands. That's what you want this time of year. Good teams find a way to do it."
Following Sunday's game, Baltimore has Jacksonville (2-10), Houston (6-6) and Cleveland (7-5) left on the schedule. The focus now, however, is solely on the Dolphins.
"This is very important," running back Justin Forsett added. "This game coming up is a playoff game for us. So will the other games we play in the month of December."
Had the Ravens held off the Chargers or at least split their two games with Cincinnati (they lost by seven and three points), the situation would be vastly different. But there's no point in looking back, especially with four important games looming.
"If we won more in the beginning, it wouldn't be such a tight race now," linebacker Daryl Smith said. "Right now, it's what we earned. We can't change that, but we can improve on it if we win the rest of our games."
An 11-5 finish would virtually assure Baltimore a playoff berth. Anything less is iffy.
"It's really the time of year when everything gets sorted out," Daniels said. "It really becomes playoff games, especially the last couple of the season. You either win or you're done. We're looking forward to it."
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