It's Thanksgiving, a time to be grateful. It's also a great time for football.
Here are 10 things the Ravens should be thankful for:
The AFC Standings
The Ravens (8-3) sit as the No. 1 seed with six games left to play.
Can't we just start the playoffs this weekend and give Baltimore a first-round bye? No, we can't. If the Ravens are going to remain the No. 1 seed, they'll need to play excellent football down the stretch, because their remaining schedule is more challenging than many of their pursuers, including the Chiefs (7-3), who are just half a game behind.
However, the Ravens deserve props for being in the pole position at Thanksgiving, and for leading the AFC North, which is the NFL's toughest division. Winning the division and securing at least one home playoff game (and possibly a first-round bye) would be huge for the Ravens, and they've put themselves in position to do it.
Lamar Jackson's Contract
Think back to February, when Jackson's uncertain status was a cloud hanging over the organization's head. Eight months later, he's locked up with a new five-year deal and is having one of his best seasons. In his first year in Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's system, Jackson has a career-high 69.5 completion percentage and has taken his throwing accuracy to another level.
Jackson is determined to bring another Super Bowl championship to Baltimore, a dynamic player who's still young at age 26. Many teams around the league have uncertain quarterback situations and it's extremely difficult to win a Super Bowl unless you're set at the most important position. The Ravens are thankful to have Jackson, and they should be.
The Pass Rush
Before the season, who thought the Ravens would lead the NFL in sacks at Thanksgiving with David Ojabo appearing in just three games and Tyus Bowser not playing at all?
General Manager Eric DeCosta deserves kudos for signing Jadeveon Clowney (6.5 sacks) and Kyle Van Noy (6.0), two vets who were still on the free-agent market at the beginning of August. Justin Madubuike (9.5 sacks) is having a monster season, and Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald is designing creative schemes that are helping the pass rushers eat. Every quarterback that faces the Ravens knows he's going to get hit – often. That can make even the best quarterbacks uncomfortable.
The Ravens' Consistent Focus
You can knock the Ravens for losing fourth-quarter leads, but you can't knock their focus or effort. They've led everygame entering the fourth quarter. They've never taken any opponent lightly. Injuries and tough losses don't faze them. That's a credit to the players and coaches. When you watch the Ravens, you see a team that's ready to play every week. Losing Mark Andrews, perhaps until next season, is a huge blow. But nothing has shaken this team's resolve. That's a sign of a team on a championship mission.
The Ravens lost J.K. Dobbins for the season in Week 1, Marcus Williams has missed six games, Marlon Humphrey has missed five, Ronnie Stanley has missed four, and now Andrews is sidelined. The Ravens have overcome those absences with strong contributions from players such as Geno Stone, Brandon Stephens and Patrick Mekari who have seamlessly stepped into major roles. Every team talks about the "next man up" mentality, but sometimes the next man doesn't play that well. The Ravens' roster is strong from top to bottom and they're reaping the rewards.
The Ravens hit at wide receiver on their first-round pick, who leads them in targets (72), catches (53), and receiving yards (588). Flowers' joy-stick quickness has added big-play potential to the offense, and he's still learning the nuances of the wide receiver position with just 10 games under his belt. Flowers is already a tough cover for opponents and could be a star in the making.
The Bus Is Rolling
Second in the NFL with 10 rushing touchdowns, Gus Edwards has stepped up big as Baltimore's lead back. Rushing yards in the red zone are tough to come by, but Edwards is a major reason the Ravens are ranked No. 4 in red zone efficiency, featuring the NFL's top rushing attack. Edwards is all the way back from a serious knee injury suffered in 2021, and with Justice Hill, Keaton Mitchell and Jackson's running ability, the Ravens have a diverse ground game that could become even more important down the stretch.
Big Plays Are Back
With Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., and Mitchell, the Ravens have added some home run hitters to the offense who've made an impact. The Ravens can run the football as well as anyone, but they can also strike quickly and there's potential for more big plays if Jackson and his wide receivers can start connecting on more deep ball opportunities.
The Ravens are allowing the fewest points in the league (19.1 per game) and rank first in rushing yards allowed, red zone defense and third down defense. The dynamic inside linebacker duo of Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen is something to be thankful for, and Smith should be a cornerstone of the defense for years to come. While it's hard to shut down the NFL's top offenses for an entire game, good defense travels, and the Ravens have one.
The Bye Week Is Coming
The Ravens have already played in London and Phoenix and have a game in Los Angeles on Sunday. However, they have a bye in Week 13 and have not played since Nov. 16, when they beat the Bengals on "Thursday Night Football." Baltimore will get a much-needed break after Sunday's game, which will help players recharge for the home stretch.