The Baltimore Ravens are headed to the playoffs and the New York Giants can join them with two more victories.
Neither club, however, enters Sunday's matchup in Baltimore with much momentum.
The Ravens will be trying to avoid their first four-game slide in five seasons while the inconsistent Giants were shut out last week for the first time in seven campaigns.
Baltimore (9-5) has clinched its fifth straight trip to the postseason, but its losing streak has left the AFC North still up for grabs. The Ravens, whose last four-game slide was a nine-game skid in 2007, can clinch the division with a win this week.
"We've got work to do," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to fight like crazy to become the team we're capable of becoming. We're not that team yet. It's a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us."
New York (8-6) has led the NFC East for most of the year, but now is tied with Dallas and Washington. The Giants fell 34-0 at Atlanta last weekend for their first shutout loss since a 23-0 playoff defeat to Carolina in 2006.
The Giants will gain at least a wild-card spot if they win their final two games. In order to win the division, they need two victories and one loss apiece by the Cowboys and Redskins.
"There are a lot of teams in this situation that are very similar to us," quarterback Eli Manning said. "They've got to win out to make it to the playoffs. Maybe they won't make it to the playoffs. We're in a good position and I think you have to be excited about this position."
Baltimore was on a 16-game home win streak before losing its last two at M&T Bank Stadium, falling 34-17 to Denver last week. The Ravens have won 12 straight at home over NFC opponents.
Injuries continue to pile up, although linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right biceps) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) returned against the Broncos. Ray Lewis remains sidelined with a torn right triceps and inside linebacker Jameel McClain will miss the remainder of the season with a bruised spinal cord.
The Ravens finished last week's game without wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce, both of whom had concussions.
"We had some injuries recently, which hurt us; we lost some tight games in overtime that could've gone the other way in a heartbeat," Harbaugh said. "We have to become the best team we can be over the next couple weeks."
The Broncos game was the first since Jim Caldwell replaced the fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. Joe Flacco's two meaningless fourth-quarter touchdowns to tight end Dennis Pitta only prevented him from finishing with less than 200 yards passing for the third straight game.
"It starts with the quarterback, and that's the position that is looked at," Flacco said. "You have to go look at yourself and see what you can do better in order to make everybody else around you a little bit better and in order to get our team to win."
The Ravens could take the pressure off Flacco if Ray Rice can get untracked. Rice was held to 38 yards last week, but the 1,000-yard back now faces a Giants' rushing defense allowing 123.7 yards per game.
While Flacco's struggles have called into question his future with Baltimore, Manning is secure in New York as a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Still, there have been numerous puzzling performances from Manning this season. He has failed to throw a touchdown four times in the last seven games, and mixed in two first-half interceptions against the Falcons.
"Well, it's our whole football team," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Hopefully, because of the position that Eli is in, he's going to lead us out of the inconsistencies."
New York could be getting some key starters back after running back Ahmad Bradshaw (knee), cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and safety Kenny Phillips (knee) all sat out against the Falcons.
Bradshaw took part in practice on a limited basis Friday, and Coughlin said he was encouraged about having the running back.
"As long as he continues to progress the way he has, he should be able to go," Coughlin said. "He brings a lot to the table in terms of fire and energy. Those are the most important factors. Knowing him, I am not surprised that he's made his way back.'
Although the Giants are in the same position as they were last season when they were 7-7 and needed to win their final two games to reach the playoffs, they know there is no guarantee for similar heroics a year later.
"Last year is a totally different year, totally different experience," safety Antrel Rolle said. "If we get ourselves caught up on what took place last year, we're going to find ourselves in a hole we don't want to be in."
The Ravens have taken three of four all-time meetings, with their 34-7 victory in Super Bowl XXXV the most notable.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved