Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.

Jackson has Ravens on cusp of ending playoff drought

One year ago, Lamar Jackson was preparing to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl for Louisville.

Now, Jackson has put the Baltimore Ravens in position to win the AFC North title for the first time since 2012 and end a three-year playoff drought.

“I’m just growing each and every week,” Jackson said. “It’s still our team, like I said before, because I’m not out there blocking. I’m just doing my part.”

Baltimore can accomplish its goal by simply beating the resurgent Cleveland Browns in Week 17. The Ravens (9-6) paved their way with an impressive 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Pittsburgh Steelers then lost to the New Orleans Saints and dropped in the playoff picture.

Baltimore has an 82.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and winning the division, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

“At the beginning of the season, if we’d say that we control our destiny going into the last game to win the division, we would all sign up for that,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re excited about that, and now we get to play a championship game.”

Cleveland secured a 12-9 overtime victory over Baltimore in Week 5. The Ravens have since overhauled their offense with Jackson and have the league’s most dominant defense.

Last season, the Ravens secondary had a monumental collapse in the season finale against the Bengals that cost them a spot in the playoffs. In that game, the Ravens surrendered a 49-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on a fourth-and-12 in the final minute that gave Cincinnati a 31-27 victory.

The Ravens are determined not to have a similar breakdown against Cleveland, which could also potentially knock them out of the postseason.

“We all have our own motivation,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “I only have a few playoff games in my 11 years, so I have a lot of added motivation with that. But definitely, last year doesn’t sit well with us. We had a prime opportunity to extend our season, and we failed at it. We didn’t finish the job, so that’s why this year, the art of finish is big for us. Just finding ways to win this game by any means necessary, emptying your tank, giving it your all, and then we’ll reload for next week once we get there.”

SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 29-10. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 18-3 against the Browns. The Ravens have also won five of six games against Cleveland, dropping a matchup earlier this season, 12-9 in overtime.