A three-game win streak has kept the Baltimore Ravens in the mix for the AFC’s best record. Given their next opponent, they’ll almost certainly remain in good position after this week.
The Ravens will try to extend their run and delight the Baltimore fans by dropping the Indianapolis Colts to 0-13 on Sunday.
Baltimore (9-3) has needed its win streak to remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. Two other clubs in the conference - Houston and New England - have the same record, but the Ravens have clinched tiebreakers over at least the Steelers and Texans.
The Ravens rushed a team-record 55 times in their latest victory, getting 290 yards on the ground in a 24-10 win at Cleveland last Sunday. Ray Rice gained a career-best 204 yards on his 29 carries.
“As long as we keep winning we are in control,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We have some tough games left, but it’s all up to us.”
Another victory may seem like a given against the 0-12 Colts, but some of Flacco’s teammates know the cost of taking a winless team too lightly. In 2007, Baltimore lost 22-16 in overtime to an 0-13 Miami squad.
The Ravens also struggled that season, finishing 5-11, but the current club is still on guard against an upset.
“This is the NFL and they’re professionals,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We’re expecting them to light up and come up in here and play. They’re just as big a threat to us as if we were playing anybody else.”
The Colts showed some resilience in quarterback Dan Orlovsky’s first start for the team last Sunday at New England. Orlovsky had 240 of his career-best 353 passing yards in the fourth quarter - along with two touchdowns to Pierre Garcon - but he couldn’t help his team completely erase a 28-point deficit in a 31-24 defeat.
“My goal is to go out there and win a ballgame - bar none,” Orlovsky said after dropping to 0-8 as an NFL starter. “The best chance for us to do that is to play well at this position. I just didn’t play good enough to win.”
He might have difficulty playing as well in this game, with Baltimore among the NFL leaders in a number of defensive categories. The Ravens are in the top five with 16.0 points, 287.3 yards, 198.6 passing yards and 88.8 rushing yards allowed per game.
New England, by contrast, currently ranks last in the NFL in average yards (412.1) and average passing yards (310.0) given up.
“If you look at statistical categories, (Baltimore) is near the top in every one. They do a tremendous job on defense,” Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said. “This week is going to be another challenge (for Orlovsky). It’s going to be a bit more complicated. Once again, we can’t put it all on his shoulders. We’ve got to be able to give him some help.”
Orlovsky will certainly need assistance if the Colts are to avoid falling to 0-13 for the first time since 1986, the franchise’s third season in Indianapolis after abruptly leaving Baltimore.
Ravens fans would relish the chance to witness that dubious feat and see their team break an eight-game skid to the Colts, which includes two playoff defeats.
Baltimore has dropped the last four home meetings, the most recent a 17-15 defeat Nov. 22, 2009. That win was part of a 14-0 start for the Colts, who had won 10 or more games in nine straight seasons before their disastrous 2011.
Peyton Manning’s absence following neck surgery and a number of other injuries have hurt Indianapolis. Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, however, is likely to play after missing the past three games with an ailing left leg.
Middle linebacker Pat Angerer, tied for second in the league with 112 tackles, could also return, though he is listed as questionable due to a right knee injury suffered against New England.
The Ravens are hoping to get their star linebacker in the lineup for this game, but Ray Lewis was still out for Wednesday’s practice with his lingering turf toe injury, which has cost him a chance to contribute to the three-game win streak.
“He’s got some orthotics that may give him a chance to be able to do that,” coach John Harbaugh told the team’s official website. “We have, probably, been somewhat cautious. We want to make sure that he doesn’t reinjure it. So, we’ll just have to see how it goes again this week.”
If Birk and Grubbs play, they’ll try to protect Flacco, who has thrown six interceptions and zero touchdowns in three career matchups with Indianapolis.
With 10 sacks this season, Suggs is two shy of matching his career high set in his 2003 rookie campaign, but he has none in six career games against the Colts.