Could this be the year that the Ravens return to the Super Bowl? Go back to early October and that would have seemed unlikely. Two losses in four games and sprinkle in some scruffy performances into the campaign and the Ravens were not looking anything like playoff contenders.
Their record at the start of November is not massively better, but slowly, they are building, just as their AFC North rivals are starting to falter. Checking out the rankings at BestOdds.com, we can see the Ravens rated as big favorites to clinch the division, despite being only a game ahead of the 5-4 Bengals.
Winning the division for the first time since 2019 would be a welcome achievement, of course, but Baltimore is looking beyond that level and toward the Super Bowl. To get back there (and extend their perfect Super Bowl record) they’re going to have to go through the Bills, the Chiefs, or both. There are plenty of reasons to believe that they can do just that.
Last year, the roster was sunk by a horrible injury list, but this time around, the Ravens seem to have taken a different approach. Having been punished in the past by the NFL over breaching practice intensity rules, the focus this summer was on execution, technique and communication, and on minimizing the risk of injury or putting players under such duress that they cannot last the season.
The result may have been a slow start, characterized by late lapses in intensity in most of their games, but whereas many teams have started to hit a wall at the midpoint of the season, the Ravens feel like a freight train that is building up speed. They are getting better as they get stronger, and assuming they have something like normal luck, they should be on course to claim the division easily.
Another factor in the Ravens’ favor is their relatively easy schedule between now and the end of the regular season. Of the remaining games, only the final matchup with Cincinnati looks like a potentially tricky test. Otherwise, they have two games against the woeful Steelers, another chance to beat the Browns, and clearly winnable games against Jacksonville, Carolina, Denver and Atlanta.
Given their slow start, they may not be able to catch the Bills or the Chiefs, but they can push them hard right to the end of the regular season, and if either of their rivals slips up, could sneak through into the top spot.
There is, of course, the Lamar Jackson factor. The most underrated quarterback in the NFL? Possibly. But his value to the Ravens is almost incalculable. He is the ultimate team quarterback, adapting his game to the needs of the game situation as required. When the run game is working smoothly, he doesn’t get in its way, when they need to make some efficient quick passing plays, he delivers, and when progress begins to stall, he stretches his legs and bursts through the defense.
The Ravens’ game travels
One of the great qualities that the Ravens possess is flexibility. That is one of the reasons they are so hard to play against. They can hurt opponents in many different ways and they never let up.
The core Baltimore game, however, is solid and durable. Built around a battering ram of a running game and elite-level defense that never quits, they are horrible opponents. And when temperatures plummet, injuries pile up and the pressure is really on, late into December, their game will still be strong and reliable. It may not be a flashy sports car, but it won’t break down in bad weather.
It wouldn’t be the Ravens, however, if there wasn’t also a note of caution attached to this optimism. Much of the above is predicated on the assumption that they will put right the biggest problem of the first eight games: their tendency to fold in the fourth quarter.
Baltimore, this season, has regularly given up double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. They were outscored 28-3 against the Dolphins in the fourth and gave up big leads against the Bills, Giants and Bengals. Maintaining intensity levels up to the final seconds will be a basic requirement if they are going to make an impact in the postseason, and this aspect of their game has to improve. Assuming that it does, however, then there is every chance that the Ravens will be Super Bowl contenders this season.