The Baltimore Ravens are in control of their destiny in the AFC North and the race for a first-round bye. Maintaining that edge, though, will likely be difficult if they turn in another lackluster performance.
A matchup with the ailing Cleveland Browns on Saturday would appear to give the Ravens a good chance to stay on track for the division crown and the No. 2 seed, with Baltimore having dominated the series of late.
The Ravens (10-4) have put themselves in control with a sweep of division rival Pittsburgh and a victory over Houston on Oct. 16, giving them a leg up on those 10-4 teams.
Baltimore, though, missed out last week on a chance to move ahead of the Steelers and Texans, both of whom lost. With a playoff berth already wrapped up, the Ravens were blown out 34-14 in San Diego.
Pittsburgh fell 20-3 to San Francisco on Monday night, and Houston was upset 28-13 at home by Carolina.
"It's a gift, but we wish we didn't have to get it that way," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We've just got to take care of business."
They won't have top receiver Anquan Boldin as they attempt to do so. Coach John Harbaugh said Boldin will miss the final two weeks of the regular season after having knee surgery Thursday to deal with slightly torn cartilage, though he should be able to return for the playoffs.
"He's going to have to get it repaired," Harbaugh said. "It's two weeks and he'll be back for the playoffs, whatever round we happen to play in. It will be a little bit tighter if we have to play in the first round."
Boldin has 57 receptions for 887 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens would not reveal which knee is injured.
Baltimore, winner of nine in a row at home dating to last December, appears to have a good chance to do that with Cleveland (4-10) visiting M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have won seven straight over the Browns, tied for the longest win streak against an opponent in team history. They've also won seven consecutive games over the New York Jets.
Baltimore's latest victory in the series came Dec. 4 as Ray Rice ran for a career-high 204 yards in a 24-10 win. Ricky Williams added 76 yards rushing as the Ravens piled up 290 on the ground.
Cleveland has made adjustments as it looks to slow down Rice. The Browns allowed 147 rushing yards in a 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 8, but limited Arizona to 74 in a 20-17 overtime defeat last week.
"The goal (is) to make sure we minimize his effect on the game," coach Pat Shurmur told the team's website. "We've done some things schematically to help us, and we just keep emphasizing that everyone has to play better. I've seen that."
At 3-4 on the road, winning this game might prove vital to Baltimore's chances of accomplishing its regular-season goals. The Ravens close out their schedule at Cincinnati on Jan. 1.
"We're playing two teams that know us very well, two division foes, so it's going to be interesting," Suggs said. "We've got to get back to doing what we do best, and that's playing Ravens football."
Suggs, who has a career-high 13 sacks, chased down Colt McCoy for one of those, but the Browns quarterback likely won't play this week. McCoy has been out since taking a hit to the head against Pittsburgh earlier this month.
The controversy surrounding Cleveland's failure to check McCoy for a concussion has led the NFL to put certified trainer in every press box. McCoy still had symptoms of a concussion Wednesday and has yet to be cleared to return to the field.
"Like anybody that wants to play, he's anxious to get back out there," Shurmur said. "But he understands there is a process that you have to go through before he will be able to play again."
With McCoy out, Seneca Wallace is expected to start again after he threw for 226 yards and a touchdown versus the Cardinals. His 76-yard scoring pass to Greg Little gave the Browns a 17-7 third-quarter lead, but they couldn't hold it and suffered a season-high fourth consecutive defeat and sixth in a row on the road.
Wallace's one start against the Ravens came in the team's most recent trip to Baltimore on Sept. 26, 2010. He threw for 141 yards and a TD in a 24-17 defeat, while counterpart Joe Flacco passed for three touchdowns.
Flacco has eight TDs and one interception over his last six matchups with the Browns, who might need a strong performance from Peyton Hillis to help snap their losing streak.
In his fourth game since returning from an injured hamstring, Hillis ran for a season-high 99 yards and a touchdown last week. He rushed for a then-career high 144 yards in Baltimore last September but has been held to a combined 80 over the past two matchups.
The Ravens will have a new kicker for this game as Billy Cundiff is dealing with a sore left calf. On Wednesday, the team signed Shayne Graham, an 11-year veteran who has played for six other teams, and Harbaugh said Graham is expected to handle the kicking duties Saturday.
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