OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -At the start of the 2008 season, the Baltimore Ravens would been delighted and content to reach the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Now that they've established themselves as one of the best teams in the conference, the Ravens intend to gain entry as AFC North champions.
Baltimore (9-4) trails Pittsburgh (10-3) by one game in the division, so a victory at home Sunday against the Steelers will thrust the Ravens into a tie for lead. For a team that went 5-11 last year, winning the AFC North for the second time in three years would be quite an achievement.
``We want to be division champs. We want to be champions. That's something that every team in the division definitely plays for,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ``We're not backing down from the fact that that's our goal. The Steelers stand between us and the division championship, and they're next up on the schedule.''
win in eight games for the Ravens, who hope to ride that momentum to victory over the Steelers.
``Do they become more important as they come? Absolutely,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's pretty appropriate that the two best teams in the division will be playing for the division championship. Really, not just this week, but for the next three weeks.''
Baltimore would be virtually eliminated with a loss Sunday, because that would give the Steelers the advantage in head-to-head meetings (Pittsburgh won 23-20 in overtime on Sept. 29). But if the Ravens win, the teams could go deep into the tiebreaker formula if they finish deadlocked atop the division.
The Ravens' loss to Tennessee earlier this year means that if Pittsburgh is defeated by Baltimore, the Steelers can still capture the AFC North title by beating Tennessee and Cleveland. That would give Pittsburgh a better conference record than the Ravens.
But that doesn't mean Baltimore can't get in as a wild-card team.
The Ravens hold a one-game lead over Miami (8-5) and New England (8-5) in the race for the sixth and final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins and Patriots are tied atop the AFC East with the New York Jets, who currently own the tiebreaking edge in that division.
All the scenarios and tiebreaking numbers will change on a weekly basis, so the Baltimore coaching staff has decided against doing the math.
going to talk about as a team because it's not really pertinent to what we have to get done,'' Harbaugh said. ``We have to win. ... We've earned the right to play one more meaningful game in December. That's all we've done. But that's a lot, and that's something to be proud of.''
That the Ravens are even talking about the division title, or the playoffs for that matter, is stunning. Few predicted Baltimore would rebound so smartly from last year's disaster, particularly under a first-year coach and with a rookie starting quarterback.
But after starting 2-3, the Ravens are tied with Indianapolis for the third-best record in the AFC.
``I love where we're at, and it's not just because of our record,'' wide receiver Derrick Mason said. ``It's because of the attitude the guys have. We've brought into what the coaches are preaching, and the guys are having fun.''
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