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Ravens need to win 7 of last 10

Team has little margin for error on hard road to playoffs

By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltimoresun.com

6:58 AM EDT, October 25, 2009

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While the sting of three straight narrow defeats might have diminished for the Ravens during the bye, the lasting effect is a small margin of error for the final two months of the regular season.

Recent NFL history says the Ravens need to reach 10 victories to lock up a playoff berth for a second straight season. That translates to winning seven of their last 10 games, a homestretch that includes some of the best quarterbacks and stingiest defenses in the NFL.

At 3-3, the Ravens say they aren't making any playoff calculations.

"That's taboo," coach John Harbaugh said.

But the Ravens know what lies ahead: the undefeated

Denver Broncos, another showdown with Peyton Manning, two grudge matches against their fiercest AFC North rival and a December date at Lambeau Field.

A tougher road than last season to the playoffs? Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson simply shrugs his shoulders.

"We definitely have a tough road ahead of us," Johnson said. "But this is the NFL. You don't have any William and Marys on the schedule."

In fact, the Ravens have seven games against teams with winning records, but that only touches on the challenges that await them.

Astruggling Ravens secondary has seven meetings against quarterbacks ranked in the top half of the NFL in average passing yards per game (Manning, Ben Roethlisberger twice, Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Orton, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer). A resurgent Ravens offense has seven games against defenses ranked in the top half of the NFL in fewest points allowed (Denver, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Pittsburgh twice, Cincinnati and Chicago).

If the Ravens make the postseason, they would certainly have earned it.

"Even though we're 3-3, this team believes in itself and each other," center Matt Birk said.

"I'm not happy about being 3-3 but we still feel good about what we're doing and how we're doing it."

This season has been an emotional ride. For the first time in team history, the Ravens scored more than 30 points in each of their first three games, running out to a 3-0 start. Then came three straight losses by a combined 11 points.

The Ravens can't afford many more missteps. During the past five seasons, teams that have won 10 or more games have made the playoffs 94 percent of the time (48 of 51 teams). But teams that won nine games advanced to the postseason just 40 percent (eight of 20) of the time.

Harbaugh said he wouldn't be breaking out the calculator during the bye.

"You know how you make the playoffs? You win games," Harbaugh said. "And that's what we need to do."

The Ravens, who are one game behind the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North, are looking to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001.

"Right now is not the time to make projections," tight end Todd Heap said. "Right now is the time to focus on our next game. "We can't really look forward. We've got to make sure we live for right now. We don't have a lot of room for error right now."