Ravens in playoff mode entering matchup at Chargers
The Baltimore Ravens are treating Saturday night's matchup at the Los Angeles Chargers like a playoff game. Given their margin of error with two games remaining, they have little choice.
Baltimore (8-6) owns the AFC's No. 6 and final playoff seed, holding tiebreakers over the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. The Ravens also trail Pittsburgh by a half-game in the AFC North and could take over first place with a win over Los Angeles and a loss by the Steelers in New Orleans.
"You think you need to win every game," said Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. "So, this is really no different. We've been feeling that since we've got back off the bye week -- that every game is going to be a playoff-type game. It's definitely big going into this one -- Saturday night, prime-time game. It'll definitely be huge to get this victory."
The Chargers (11-3) will present a daunting challenge for Baltimore. Los Angeles has plenty to play for too and is still in the mix to lock up the No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The hottest team in the NFL with a four-game winning streak, the Chargers are coming off a last-second victory at Kansas City that pulled them into a tie with the Chiefs atop the AFC West. Kansas City holds the tiebreaker, so Los Angeles will have to win out and hope for the Chiefs to lose once to claim the top seed.
The Chargers had an NFL-high seven players named to the Pro Bowl and one of them is expected to return this week after sitting out the past three games with a knee injury. Running back Melvin Gordon, who has scored 13 touchdowns this season, was a full participant in Wednesday's practice and is eager to get back on the field.
"I don't want to get to the playoffs and be rusty," Gordon told reporters. "I know Baltimore has a real good defense. It would have (been) good to hop back and knock some rust off against the Chiefs, but it's also a challenge to come knock some rust off against one of the best defenses in the league."
Make that the best defense in the league. The Ravens are ranked No. 1 overall, allowing an average of 290.2 yards, and are tied with Tennessee for the fewest points allowed at 18.1 points per game. An integral part of the defense is safety Eric Weddle, who earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection this week.
Weddle will face a homecoming of sorts. He spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Chargers before earning Pro Bowl honors in each of his three seasons with Baltimore. Weddle downplayed any revenge factor, instead focusing on ending the Ravens' three-year postseason drought.
"Everything is right there for us to go get, and what better way than to go across the country and play one of the best teams, if not the best, playing right now in the league to earn our way into the playoffs?" Weddle said. "That's what I'm excited about. The past is in the past. I have no discomfort, hatred, whatever. That was almost four years ago, really, in my timeline, and they've moved.
"They're basically a different team to me, and I wish them well. I'm excited to lead my team and try to get a win."
Quarterback Philip Rivers led Los Angeles to a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes in a stunning 29-28 win at Kansas City on Dec. 13. Rivers, who has 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions, is hoping for the return of wide receiver Keenan Allen, a limited participant in Wednesday's practice after injuring his hip against the Chiefs.
The Ravens will counter with rookie Lamar Jackson, who has won four of five starts since supplanting an injured Joe Flacco. Baltimore has rushed for at least 190 yards in each of Jackson's starts, and the former Heisman Trophy winner has a team-leading 566 yards rushing on 114 carries with three touchdowns.
In last week's 20-12 win over Tampa Bay, the Ravens had the ball for over 37 minutes and put together three consecutive drives that lasted at least seven minutes. That style of play will be key again this week to keep the ball away from Rivers and the Chargers.
"I feel good about it. To me, it's good football," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said. "I talked to my dad, obviously. He has good feelings about it. It's good football, and I appreciate the way our guys are playing."
Updated December 19, 2018