Ravens looking forward to challenging final stretch

OWINGS MILLS — Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows his team has a challenging road ahead, perhaps the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL.

Nonetheless, the Ravens are coming off a well-timed bye as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14.

Harbaugh’s players had the opportunity to rest and a pair of AFC North foes — the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns — lost their Week 13 matchups, which boosted the Ravens’ lead in the division to two games.

Fellow AFC North rival Cincinnati did the Ravens a favor by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in a thrilling Monday night game, pushing the Ravens to the No. 2 seed in the AFC, behind the Miami Dolphins.

However, the Ravens have an arduous schedule and don’t play a team with a losing record over the final five games.

Harbaugh is confident his team will rise to the challenge.

“I’m excited just like all the players are – I hope the fans are – with the opportunity that we have and that our guys have created for themselves,” Harbaugh said. “You do that by just taking it one day at a time and trying to be the best football team you can be and try to play the best you can. So, I feel like our guys have done a good job of that, but [we’re] always looking forward. Challenges are in front of us, and we need to be ready for them.”

The final road to the playoffs starts with the Rams, who overcame a shaky start and have won three in a row to improve to 6-6 and get back in the playoff hunt.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,768 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. With Pro Bowler Cooper Kupp dealing with a hamstring injury, fellow wide receiver Puka Nacua has 77 catches for 1,029 yards, breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a rookie season.

“The Rams, we’ve been studying those guys really pretty much last week as well and they won three in a row – they’re coming on,” Harbaugh said. “[Rams head coach] Sean [McVay] has done a really good job with their team. Their coaches have done a good job. They’re young [and] built around two superstar players, one on offense [and] one on defense, you know who they are [Stafford and Aaron Donald].

“Then a number of young guys, rookies, [who] are playing well for them. [They have] playmakers [and are a] very physical team [that] play super hard on defense. It’s just very impressive what they’ve done.”

After the Ravens play the Rams, they finish the season against the Jaguars (8-4), 49ers (9-3), Dolphins (9-3) and Steelers (7-5).

It’s a tough slate of games, but the Ravens do have the opportunity to host an AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.

So, there is plenty of incentive to finish the year on a successful run.

“We have a lot to play for, so I’m confident our guys are going to be out there playing well and playing their best,” Harbaugh said. 

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