There's no question that the Baltimore Ravens are the better - and hotter - team in Sunday's road matchup with the San Diego Chargers.
Still, overconfidence shouldn't be a problem after what transpired last season.
With revenge in the back of their minds and star safety Ed Reed available, the Ravens seek a fourth straight win against a Chargers team teetering on the brink of oblivion.
When these teams met last season in San Diego on Dec. 18, Baltimore was 10-3 with a four-game winning streak and on its way to the AFC North title. The Chargers, meanwhile, were 6-7 after rebounding from six consecutive losses and still alive in a weak AFC West.
Records and momentum ended up playing no role as San Diego (4-6) rode an excellent performance from Philip Rivers to a 34-14 victory. Rivers went 17 for 23 for 270 yards and a touchdown to lead the Chargers to scores on six of their first seven possessions. He didn't throw an interception, and the only sack the Ravens got was wiped out by a personal foul on Terrell Suggs.
"It wasn't that pleasant. Before I could look up it was 31-7," Suggs said. "It was like raining touchdowns out there. He's a good quarterback.''
In his last three starts against Baltimore (8-2), Rivers has won twice while going a combined 67 for 103 for 955 yards and six touchdowns with three picks.
At least the Ravens know they won't have to face Rivers without Reed as the last line of defense. The eight-time Pro Bowl safety was suspended one game on Monday for repeated helmet-to-helmet hits, but appealed the suspension and on Tuesday the punishment was reduced to a $50,000 fine.
"You don't win those (appeals) often,'' strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "They still took 50K from him. But he's able to suit up and play. We're excited about that."
Baltimore has many reasons to be excited after it matched the best start in team history with a 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Reserve cornerback Corey Graham had an interception and knocked a pass away in the end zone, while Jacoby Jones returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown as the Ravens opened a two-game lead in the AFC North.
"The feeling right now is we're exactly where we want to be but we haven't arrived yet," tight end Ed Dickson told the team's official website. "We want to build from here. It's not how you begin the season; it's how you end the season that brings you a championship."
Winning a championship appears to be something the struggling Chargers can only dream about now. They all but ceded the AFC West to the Broncos with Sunday's 30-23 loss at Denver and are now left with only a desperate shot at a wild-card spot after their fifth loss in six games.
"We can't worry about that. We just have to go try and win a game,'' Rivers said. "We have to hang our hat on controlling what we can control.''
San Diego is in danger of posting its first losing season since 2003, when it went 4-12, and rumors continue to swirl that coach Norv Turner will be fired if the team misses the playoffs for a third straight season.
Beating the Ravens again will be very difficult if Rivers can't find a way to eliminate turnovers. Playing behind a shaky line that has been hit hard by injuries, Rivers has thrown a league-high 14 interceptions and lost four fumbles. He's also been sacked 26 times in 10 games, including four on Sunday.
Turner admits he's worried about the quarterback's well-being.
"Yeah, I am," he said. "I mean, I think for the quarterback position, all you've got to do is look at two weeks ago and there's three or four guys that are laying on the ground with concussions or separated shoulders or whatever."
At least facing the Ravens at home isn't nearly as challenging as playing in Baltimore, where the home team is 5-0 while averaging an NFL-best 36.8 points. Both of the Ravens' losses have come on the road, where they rank 28th in the league with 16.6 points per game.
They are on pace to become only the third team in league history to average 20 more points at home than on the road.
The Ravens and Chargers have split eight all-time meetings, with each team scoring 153 points.
San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is one touchdown catch away from matching Lance Alworth's franchise record of 81.
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