You know it. And you can bet the teams involved do, too.
Ravens-Dolphins, Sunday at Sun Life, is a de facto playoff game — a fact so obvious that there’s no reason to pretend it’s not.
“It’s tough not to look at it that way,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, when asked if Sunday’s showdown is an elimination game. “... This is a big game. It definitely is that way, it feels that way.”
Added John Harbaugh, the Ravens’ coach: “I don’t care who you’re playing this week, if you’re in the hunt and you lose, you’re in trouble.”
So, no, there is no reason to manufacture phony intensity. The stakes alone should be enough to get the juices flowing.
Monday’s win over the Jets lifted the Dolphins’ playoff odds to 47.3 percent, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The Ravens’ postseason chances cratered to 44.8 percent after their last-minute loss to San Diego.
Both teams are 7-5.
The winner will be the prohibitive favorite to claim the AFC’s second wild-card spot.
The loser would need a small miracle to play in January.
In one corner: a team that’s always in the mix. The Ravens are vying for their seventh playoff appearance in nine years.
In the other: The Dolphins, a team that has the eighth-longest playoff drought in the NFL — and has gone 14 years since its last playoff win.
And the last two times Miami reached the postseason — in 2001 and 2008 — the Ravens knocked them out. Each Dolphins loss came in South Florida.
Then there’s the matter of Miami’s regular-season futility against the Ravens. In all, the Dolphins have lost four consecutive times to Baltimore, including a 26-23 decision in Miami a year ago. While it came in the first half of the season, the loss was just as costly as if it came late. The Dolphins missed the playoffs by one game in 2013.
“That’s over, that’s dead,” said receiver Mike Wallace. “We need to win games because of this year, because of what’s on the line and we’re trying to get to the playoffs. Last year [is] last year. I think we’re a different football team.”
Wallace acknowledged that the stakes Sunday are huge — although stopped short of joining Flacco in calling it an elimination game.
“I just want to talk about winning this football game,” added Wallace, whose seven receiving touchdowns are tied for seventh in the AFC. “If you talk about it like that, people might press a little more. We know what it is. We don’t even have to talk about that. That’s understood. We just need to win this football game. That’s all we’re thinking about, winning on Sunday, and go from there.”
In that regard, Wallace sounds a lot like his head coach. Joe Philbin is nothing if not even-keeled.
But even he couldn’t downplay Sunday’s importance to the franchise he hopes to coach for years to come. Philbin’s teams have been in the mix in each of his two seasons, but have gone just 6-5 in December to fall short each time.
“This is an important game,” Philbin said. “We hadn’t gotten into all the scenarios, there’s nine million scenarios I’m sure and 8,000 different tiebreaker rules. The thing is, we’ve told the team and they started to watch the film, this is an excellent football team we’re playing and we’re going to have to play extremely well.
Philbin continued: “It’s great we have a home game at our stadium and it’s December. They know that and we’ve got to play extremely well. ... This is a good football team we’re playing.”
Added quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “This is what we’ve been preparing for since April. You put in all of this work, all of this time and this is the time of the year where it’s time to make it happen. As a team, we understand what the game is and have our goal set on what we want to accomplish. We have to go out and play well from here on out.”