John Harbaugh: Ravens know we have to win out

With the Ravens (7-6) firmly in second place in the North, coach knows the scenario from here on out: just win.

“Yes, absolutely, we know where we stand and the situation we are in. And that we basically have to win three games, you know, and (we’re) certainly fully capable of doing that,” he told reporters following last night’s 30-23 loss to the Patriots in New England. “That’s what we intend to do, but all the focus goes to the next game. That’s what I told the guys in the locker room, pack up the buses as quick as we can, get back to Baltimore and get to work on Philadelphia.”

Because the is wonderful at scheduling pesky late-season games for perennially good teams, Baltimore will have their chance. After the Eagles game, they take on the division-leading Steelers in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day before heading to Cincinnati for the season finale on New Years.

The Steelers, winners of four straight, currently sit atop the division at 8-5 with games against the Bengals, Ravens and Browns remaining. The game against Cleveland (0-13) gives them a clear edge to finish out the season on top.

While playing some of their best football in years, the Ravens simply ran into the late-season bear trap which is New England at night in Foxborough under the bright lights. Tom Brady is already hard enough to beat under neutral circumstances.

This should not be considered a lost season for Baltimore, especially given how well rebounded from ACL surgery. The team survived a four-game losing streak and rekindled its status as an elite defense. They’re currently fourth in points surrendered, third in yards surrendered and first across the board against the run.

Baltimore waived kick returner Devin Hester on Tuesday, one day after the team’s loss to the Patriots.

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Nike Ravens #4 Sam Koch Purple Player Pullover NFL HoodieHester joined the Ravens on a one-year, $4 million deal just one week before the season opener and three months after being cut by the Falcons.

The former Bears legend never quite regained his spark in Charm City, having fumbled five times and averaging just 7.2 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kick return in 2016. Hester failed to record a single return touchdown in 12 games with the Ravens.

With three games to go, the Ravens will look to other options in the return game to spur a late postseason charge. Potential replacements on punt and kick returns include Michael Campanaro, Mike Wallace and Lardarius Webb.

While the NFL takes chances by loading the back end of the schedule with divisional rivalries, the payoff can be extraordinary. Having the Ravens (8-6) and Steelers (9-5) play on Christmas Day (exclusively airing on NFL Network) with the AFC North — and realistically, the playoffs — on the line is something that and Co. dream of every year when they begin the massive undertaking of crafting the perfect schedule.

According to NFL Media research, the Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win on Sunday. The Ravens, though, can also theoretically “control their destiny” with a win. Should Baltimore win on Sunday and defeat the Bengals in the season finale, they will win the division and waltz into the playoffs. In that scenario, the Steelers could still sneak in as a wild-card team but would need some help from the Miami Dolphins, who finish their season with difficult games against the Bills and Patriots.

But more than just scenarios, this game features some of the best veteran talent remaining in football. In the past, I’ve talked about the end of the Peyton Manning era sneaking up on me and I’m determined to enjoy another round of Terrell Suggs v. Ben Roethlisberger. Having Smith, , Eric Weddle jersey and in the fold is an incredible treat. There won’t be a game this weekend, or perhaps all season long, with better coaching and preparation on both sides of the ball.

All of this under the umbrella of “professional hatred” at a hostile Heinz Field.