- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are one win away from locking up a second straight playoff spot, but they appear unlikely to play a postseason game at PSINet Stadium.
The Ravens need to finish with the best record of the three AFC wild-card teams to be host for a first-round playoff. If the Ravens (9-5) win their two remaining games Saturday at Tampa Bay (8-6) and next week against the sinking Minnesota Vikings (5-9) at home the Ravens will finish 11-5.
However, the Ravens will lose all tiebreakers with any other AFC team that finishes 11-5 because of a worse conference record. The Ravens are tied with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets at 9-5, a half-game behind the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (10-5). If the playoffs began tomorrow, the Ravens would be the sixth seed. In order to finish fourth, the Ravens need to win out and have the Dolphins, Jets or Patriots lose at least one or all of their remaining games.
That wishful thinking is a long shot as far as the Patriots are concerned. New England has its bye week Sunday and ends the season next week at woeful Carolina (1-13). Meanwhile, the Dolphins finish with home games against the Atlanta Falcons (7-7) and Buffalo Bills (2-12), while the Jets play host to the troublesome Bills on Sunday and close at AFC West champion Oakland (10-4).
Most likely, the Patriots will finish 11-5. That would mean the Ravens need the Dolphins and Jets to lose one game each to be host for a first-round wild-card game. Only the 1985 Patriots, as a fifth seed, reached the Super Bowl by winning three playoff games on the road, and no sixth seed has ever done so.
"It's fun to think about all that and it gets a little crazy to figure out who does what and where, but there again you can get drawn into that even if it's on a personal level as a player or as a coach," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You watch and you try to figure it out and then you say, 'OK, so this game over the weekend will mean this or that.' It draws your focus, it draws your emotions a little bit."
A loss or tie for the Seattle Seahawks (7-7) will clinch a playoff spot for the Ravens regardless if Baltimore wins another game. If the Ravens lose both their remaining games and the Seahawks win both of theirs, the Seahawks would claim the wild card because of a better record against common opponents. The Seahawks are at San Diego (5-10) Sunday and close at home against the Kansas City Chiefs (5-9).
With no AFC opponents left on their schedule, the Ravens went 8-4 this season against the conference.
Although Baltimore's postseason prospects remain unclear, the team received good news on the injury front. Massive defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who sat out Sunday's 16-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Bengals with knee and calf injuries, is expected to play Saturday against the Buccaneers in the first meeting between these teams.
Ravens rushing leader Jason Brookins (536 yards on 144 carries), who broke his foot three games ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars, will resume practicing this week. Brookins, who has five rushing touchdowns this season, will not play against the Buccaneers, but might be ready for the regular-season finale against the Vikings.
"Apparently, he is pain-free and healed to the point where it's, "Hey, have at it,'" Billick said. "In a perfect world, I would like him to take some game reps against Minnesota if indeed it's our fate to go on to the next level."

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