King of the hill
Ravens need to beat Titans to wrest AFC crown away
Updated: Tuesday January 02, 2001 9:43 PM
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- With apologies to Miami and Oakland, Ravens head coach Brian Billick believes Baltimore's most difficult obstacle in reaching the Super Bowl is Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.
"Tennessee is the No. 1 seed. If you beat the No. 1 seed, long live the king -- until somebody comes and knocks you off," Billick said Monday.
By defeating the Denver Broncos 21-3 Sunday, the Ravens (13-4) earned a trip to Nashville to play the defending AFC champion Titans, who finished with the best record in the NFL (13-3) and are fresh off a bye week.
But Baltimore is the only team to defeat the Titans in Adelphia Coliseum in 17 games, rallying for a 24-23 victory Nov. 12.
The teams rank 1-2 in the NFL in total defense, have only one loss between them since October and waged a season-long fight for dominance in the talent-laden AFC Central. No wonder Billick says the winner of Sunday's game is headed to the Super Bowl.
"We all have the same attitude. Oakland and Miami, whether they say it or not, they're going to think the same thing: From this game is going to come the AFC champion," he said.
"We have a right to think that. There's a little bit of divisional pride here. You'd like to think that, by golly, if it's not us, it's one of ours. We had to battle through them, and that's why we didn't get there."
Billick hopes that will be the Titans' lament, not Baltimore's, come Sunday night.
Tennessee worked all season to get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. It's not as much an edge against the Ravens, who went 6-2 on the road, but are still feeling their way around the postseason.
"It's amazing, in 24 hours we've gone from a team that had never been in the playoffs to a team that now has playoff-win experience," Billick said. "The next experience is to play in that next level."
Beating the Titans on the road is just another hurdle for a team that before this year never had a winning season.
"You're always dealing with barriers," Billick said. "When I got here, it was, `Can you beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh?' OK, we did. Then it was, `Can you beat Jacksonville anywhere?' We did that. `Can you beat Tennessee in Tennessee?' We did that, too.
"Had that not happened, that might be one additional barrier that we would have to deal with, in a playoff environment, that doesn't exist now. That doesn't mean we don't respect the fact that they're home and it's going to be tough."
The rivalry is evenly matched -- six of the 10 games have been decided by four points or less, and the teams split the series the past two seasons.
The Ravens lifted weights Monday, but did not practice. The only Baltimore injury of note was to safety Kim Herring, who sprained his ankle Sunday and was limping.
Quarterback Trent Dilfer, who left briefly after taking a hard hit, was fine, Billick said.
While the Titans had Sunday off, the Ravens played a tough game.
"This team is tired, they're sore and they're beat up, as you might expect after the first round in a playoff," Billick said. "That's why you fight so hard for the bye."