As the temperatures decline, the competitive heat rises in the NFL with the playoffs getting under way next weekend.
The Ravens begin with a home date against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at 1 p.m., and coach John Harbaugh is excited about the prospect of a playoff atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium.
He’s also keyed up for the feeling of everyone starting from scratch now that the regular season is over.
“It’s a whole new season. It all starts fresh,” Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s the playoffs. We’re all 0-0 at this point. It’s time to move on and play this part of the season.”
Even though the Ravens lost four of their final five games to enter the postseason as one of the AFC’s coldest teams, Harbaugh is upbeat about where his team stands.
The Ravens can essentially toss out Sunday’s loss to the Bengals because both teams rested their starters for much of the contest, and Baltimore still had a chance to win the game.
The Ravens won in dominating fashion in their final meaningful game of the season, and now go in to the Colts contest following a week of resting players.
“I feel great about where we’re at. I’m very excited about our team right now,” Harbaugh said. “I like us a lot. I’ve liked us all year. I’ve liked us when you guys haven’t liked us as a group, media - I’m talking about the pundits and the prognosticators that make predictions.
“I like that fact that we’ve overcome a lot of adversity, both personal and team. I like the fact that our guys have stuck together through a lot of that. I think that’s what makes a team what it is and I’m looking forward to seeing who we are for the next one game through however many games we’re able to play. It’s going to be a great challenge, it’s a great opportunity and I wouldn’t want to be coaching any other team besides the Ravens.”
Harbaugh and his coaching staff made the decision to choose health over momentum heading into the playoffs.
Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, much of the starting offensive line and other starters lasted just two offensive series at Cincinnati. Several others didn’t dress.
“We took all that into consideration. We weighed it all out. We felt like we could win the game with guys we had, and we almost pulled it off,” Harbaugh said. “I think with a little better field position we would have pulled it off. So if momentum is winning the game, that was something we talked about. We tried to win the game. But some other factors weighed heavy in our minds.”
But now it’s down to which team is playing the best, and few project a deep postseason run for the Ravens. The Broncos, Redskins, Seahawks, Colts and Vikings are among the teams riding a high right now, and often it’s a hot team that runs its way to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore did seem to get on track against the Giants, but Harbaugh has to hope his team starts a real hot streak Sunday against Indianapolis.
“We should be at our very best this time of year and we need to be,” he said. “The team that is at their best at this time of year will end up being the one true champion and that’s our goal - when it’s all said and done, to be the one true champion at the end of the season. To do that, we have to be at our best this week in order to play next week because if you stub your toe, you’re out. That’s the great thing about it.”
In other news, Harbaugh was asked about what is being termed “Black Monday” around the NFL.
Seven head coaches and three general managers were fired one day after the regular season came to a close, including Harbaugh’s former boss, Eagles coach Andy Reid.
“A lot of great people,” Harbaugh said. “I think, as coaches, we all understand the nature of the business. Players too, they understand the nature of it. That’s part of the challenge, but it’s hard on families. It’s hard on kids who’ve got to change schools, pick up and move and start in other cities and things like that. So that’s what you feel for the most and that’s kind of what prayers go out towards.”
Harbaugh also said linebacker Ray Lewis will be a game-time decision Sunday. Lewis has been practicing with the team for several weeks, and was activated from injured reserve last week. But whether he’s able to return from his torn triceps has not yet been announced.
And lastly, the Ravens issued a statement Monday afternoon that they have been contacted by a number of NFL teams seeking permission to interview assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.
DeCosta said he doesn’t plan on going anywhere, however.
“I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships. I have no intentions of leaving this team,” DeCosta said in a statement.