The swagger is back. That much was evident last week when both Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata said Cleveland's Peyton Hillis wouldn't have a big day running the ball on Sunday.
December's stretch run is in full-throttle. Or it will be in Cleveland, where the wind will whip in off Lake Erie and play havoc with any ball that's in the air.
Ray Rice is ready. Finally, after 14 games, the Ravens concede the run game is the engine that powers this playoff machine.
Those are the three primary reasons the Ravens should survive their frigid trip to Ohio this week and retain a shot, however slim, of overtaking the Steelers in the standings: Baltimore's defense has its confidence back, the playoffs are in the air, and Rice is healthy.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has talked for three years about building an offense suited to the division the Ravens play in. That means wintry games in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati against teams that are traditionally tough to run on. The Ravens will still need plays from the passing game – and Joe Flacco's arm is strong enough to slice through those arctic winds – but without the run leading the way, any game in Cleveland in December is iffy.
Flacco's arm gives him a big advantage over the Browns' Colt McCoy in conditions like this. McCoy has played beyond expectations as a rookie, but his arm has not been tested in the wind tunnel that Cleveland Browns Stadium will be on Sunday. Still tougher for McCoy is the fact he has no deep threat or outside passing game.
That will allow the Ravens' defense to focus on Hillis and make amends for his 144-yard rushing effort back on Sept. 26. Lewis rarely disrespects an opponent, but it was clear this week he is still upset with the success Hillis had.
From a distance, Hillis and the Browns look worn out, Hillis from carrying the offensive load all season and the Browns from another losing season. And it's decision time on Eric Mangini, the second-year coach who will be fighting for his job in the last two weeks of the season. This isn't what Mike Holmgren had in mind when he became president of the Browns. The question now is, will Holmgren become the coach of the Browns?