Ravens need win over Browns and help to reach playoffs

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BALTIMORE (AP) — How nice it would be for the Baltimore Ravens if all they needed to secure a playoff berth was to beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Baltimore (9-6) has won 12 of 13 against its AFC North rivals, including six straight at home. Also, the Browns (7-8) have lost four in a row and have serious quarterback issues.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, last week's loss in Houston means a win over Cleveland won't be enough to get them into the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.

Baltimore also needs San Diego to lose or tie Kansas City in a game that will take place simultaneously to the Ravens-Browns finale. It's not an ideal scenario, especially with Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith out, but the Ravens have no one to blame but themselves.

"It's tough to think about the opportunities that we let go, and that's not anybody's doorstep but our own," Baltimore defensive lineman Chris Canty said. "We had some lapses in focus, and we've made some mistakes that have cost us some football games throughout the course of the regular season. You can't get them back."

So when the Ravens are on offense Sunday, linebacker Terrell Suggs probably won't be able to resist taking a look at the scoreboard.

"You want to say, 'No, we don't pay attention to that,' but we're going to be looking up," he said. "We still have to get to 10 wins, we still want 10 wins, and we will start there. We have to do our business and let everything kind of take care of itself."

Some things to know about the Browns-Ravens matchup:

QUARTERBACK QUANDRY: With Johnny Manziel done for the season with a hamstring injury and Brian Hoyer unlikely to play because of a sore shoulder and biceps, Connor Shaw will likely make his starting debut for the Browns.

As a senior at South Carolina last year, Shaw threw 23 touchdown passes and just one interception. But going up against Ravens will present a far more difficult challenge.

RUNNING GAME NEEDED: The Ravens' focus on offense will be to revive a running game that's sputtered over the past two weeks. Baltimore ran for only 93 yards against Jacksonville before being limited to 33 yards on 16 carries in Houston.

"Running the ball makes everything else go for us," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "It has been a concern. Now, we have another challenge this week with some new faces up front."

Right tackle Rick Wagner (foot) was placed on injured reserve this week and left tackle Eugene Monroe did not practice (ankle). That means rookies James Hurst and John Urschel will see plenty of action Sunday.

BUCKLE UP: Browns coach Mike Pettine's first season has had highs, lows, twists and turns.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride," he said.

At 7-4, the Browns were poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 when the bottom fell out. Now they're trying to avoid a five-game losing streak to end the season.

"You're just a couple Sundays away from being a coach of the year candidate to the village idiot hall of fame," Pettine said. "It's been tough. You're gauged ultimately on how you finish. What's the end result? We have a chance to get to 8-8. And for us that's disappointing, because we left some wins out there."

FLACCO FLOP: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went 21 for 50 with three interceptions against Houston, a performance that left him eager to rebound against the Browns.

"There's not really too much you can do about it at this point," he said. "You just have to have confidence in yourself, confidence in yourself as a group and go out and win the next one."

The matchup against Cleveland bodes well for the seventh-year starter. Flacco is 12-1 lifetime against the Browns with 16 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.

JOE PRO BOWL: Browns left tackle Joe Thomas made it 8 for 8 on Pro Bowl invitations this week. He's the first offensive lineman in NFL history to earn the honor in each of his first eight seasons. Thomas has started all 127 career games and has not missed an offensive snap since being selected with the third overall pick in 2007.

"He's just the definition of consistency, not just consistency, but consistent superb play," said Pettine, who joked the Pro Bowl should be renamed "The Joe Thomas Invitational."

Said Thomas: "That's a good thing to be teased about."


AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this story.


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