Ravens hoping to secure home-field advantage in playoffs
For the Baltimore Ravens, about the only thing better than being home for Thanksgiving is to stay put throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Ravens (8-3) own the best record in the conference after their 16-6 victory over San Francisco on Thursday night. Playing without star middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Baltimore tied a franchise record with nine sacks and provided John Harbaugh an emotional victory in the first NFL game featuring brothers as opposing head coaches.
Most importantly, the Ravens cleared a major hurdle in their quest to secure home-field advantage in the post-season leading up to the Super Bowl.
"That would be pretty good," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Obviously, playing here, we're pretty tough to beat."
Being at home in January is more important to Baltimore than any other team in the NFL. The Ravens are 6-0 at M&T Bank Stadium, including wins over Pittsburgh (7-3), Houston (7-3), the New York Jets (5-5) and San Francisco (9-2).
On the road, Baltimore is 2-3. All three losses came against teams with losing records.
The Ravens made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons as a wild-card team, but playing every game on the road proved too difficult an obstacle to overcome. They hope to travel a different course this time — one that doesn't require a plane ride.
"We haven't had a home playoff game since I've been here," Flacco said. "It would really be beneficial to get one."
The Ravens are in good position to make home-field advantage theirs. After facing the Browns on the road, the Ravens play at home against winless Indianapolis, travel to San Diego, host Cleveland and wrap up the regular season in Cincinnati.
Harbaugh will stress his usual game-at-a-time philosophy, but he knows Baltimore's collective performance next month will determine the outcome of its quest to secure the top seed in the AFC.
"It's December football," he said, "and that's when you start thinking about things like that."
Hillis might play against Bengals
Browns running back Peyton Hillis is ready to make his return after missing six straight games with a hamstring injury. Hillis practiced Friday for the first time since Nov. 4 and may play on Sunday at Cincinnati. Hillis first got hurt on Oct. 16 in Oakland and was poised to return three weeks ago before he aggravated the hamstring during practice. It's a surprising development considering Browns Coach Pat Shurmur ruled him out when the week began and Hillis did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
■ Green Bay outside linebacker Erik Walden was arrested Friday on suspicion of felony domestic violence/substantial battery and will remain in jail until at least Monday. Walden allegedly assaulted his live-in girlfriend at the couple's apartment in Lawrence, just outside of Green Bay. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Brown County Court is closed for the weekend.
■ Detroit's Jahvid Best will be put on season-ending injured reserve. The second-year running back has been bothered by concussion problems and hasn't played since Oct. 16.
■ Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was listed as doubtful for Sunday's game at Atlanta because of a high ankle sprain.
Kurt Busch fined $50,000 for outbursts
NASCAR fined Kurt Busch $50,000 for poor behavior during the Sprint Cup finale last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch was penalized for both making an obscene gesture in his car and being verbally abusive toward a reporter.
Busch had a transmission problem early in Sunday's race. As he and his Penske Racing Dodge headed to the garage, his in-car camera caught him making an obscene gesture. While his team made repairs, Busch waited to be interviewed by ESPN reporter Jerry Punch, and a fan videotaped Busch being verbally abusive while waiting to go live.
It's not clear if Penske Racing will take additional action against Busch. His primary sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil said in a statement Wednesday that it was disappointed with the driver.
"His actions are in no way consistent with the way we want our brands represented and we have expressed our disappointment and concerns directly to Penske Racing," the statement said.
Djokovic eliminated from ATP Finals
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic was eliminated from the ATP World Tour Finals after Tomas Berdych rallied from a set and a break down to beat David Ferrer 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 Friday and grab the last semifinal spot at the season-ending tournament. Djokovic lost to fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic earlier Friday to finish round-robin play with a 1-2 record, but would have gone through to the last four if Ferrer had beaten Berdych in the late match.
Ferrer will face Roger Federer in Saturday's first semifinals, before Berdych takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Ireland, Australia tied for World Cup lead
Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell shot a 4-under 68 in alternate-shot play Friday for a share of the lead with Australia after the second round of the World Cup in Hainan, China. Australia's Brendan Jones and Richard Green shot a 70 and are also at 13 under on Mission Hills' Blackstone Course. Americans Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar were tied for fourth at 10 under after a 70.
■ Australia's Marcus Fraser shot a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead over American Bubba Watson after the second round of the Australian PGA in Coolum, Australia.
■ Scotland's Steven O'Hara shot a 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead over South Africans Retief Goosen and Merrick Bremner after the second round of the South African Open in Johannesburg.
Sports in the courts
Police search Syracuse assistant's home
Authorities involved in a sexual-abuse investigation of Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine carried out a search at his home Friday but declined to comment on what they were looking for. New York State Police spokesman Jack Keller said troopers were called to assist the U.S. attorney's office at the search. Two former ball boys for the Syracuse basketball team, Bobby Davis and his stepbrother, Mike Lang, have said they were molested more than 25 years ago by Fine, who is on paid administrative leave from the university. Fine has called the allegations "patently false."
Lovely Lil wins Aqueduct's Go For Wand
Lovely Lil, a 15-1 shot, beat even-money favorite All Due Respect by 1¼ lengths Friday to win the $150,000 Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct. It was the second Big A stakes victory in two days for trainer Mike Hushion following Sunrise Smarty's win in the Fall Highweight Championship.
The last word
The Cincinnati Bengals' game Sunday against intrastate rival Cleveland didn't sell out and will be blacked out on local television, an indication that Cincinnati's success this season hasn't won back its fans. The Bengals have sold out only one regular-season home game this year — against Pittsburgh, which brought thousands of fans to Paul Brown Stadium. At 6-4, they're in the thick of playoff contention, but still unable to fill their stadium. Surprising? Not to left tackle Andrew Whitworth:
"Even the Pittsburgh game — I think we only sold out because how many daggone Pittsburgh fans came? So we want the people here that want to watch us play and want to root us on. That's all that matters. It doesn't matter how many it is."