Eisenberg: 2015 Ravens Can't Sneak Up On People


Maybe it's a function of playing in Baltimore, a smaller market than New York, Chicago, Washington or Philadelphia.

Maybe it's a function of having a history that, while impressive and enviable, only goes back two decades, unlike franchises that have gathered fans and media for more than a half-century.

Maybe it's a function of so often being in the position of having to win playoff games on the road, as underdogs.

Whatever the explanation – a combination of all those factors and more, I would say – the Ravens have ridden the heck out of the "overlooked and under-appreciated" horse over the years. They've used it so much it has become their default psychological condition.

Just a few months ago, they went into New England as major underdogs, telling themselves no one gave them much of a shot to win a playoff game. It wasn't entirely true; the Patriots knew Baltimore was a dangerous opponent and sighed with relief after overcoming a pair of 14-point deficits to win. But the Ravens felt right at home in those conditions. They've won a pair of Super Bowls as a No. 4 seed.

As a new season approaches, however, it appears they might have to find a new psychological tactic. Overlooked and under-appreciated isn't an appropriate description of the Ravens heading into 2015.

Earlier this month, Peter King of MMQB.com put them at the top of his first power rankings of the new season – that's right, No. 1, ahead of the Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and all the teams that always get more love, or so some in Baltimore believe.

Not this time.

Why did King rank the Ravens first? "I trust John Harbaugh to find answers in a league devoid of a truly great team," he wrote. "I trust the running game to take pressure off Joe Flacco until he develops chemistry with new receivers, and I trust Dean Pees to replace Haloti Ngata with a combination platter of front-seven changeups. This is a battle-tested team that had two 14-point playoff leads in Foxboro last January. I just think the Ravens will find a way."

That's hardly a dismissive shrug from a disdainful national media.

On the heels of King's praise, ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, a former Patriot, offered more, saying the Ravens had the NFL's No. 1 roster, ahead of his former employers. And when the Pro Football Focus website and ESPN marshaled their forces of opinion in ranking the league's 32 rosters, the Ravens came in at No. 3.

Starting to get the picture?

The Ravens are going to have a tough time sneaking up on anyone this season.

It might not seem that their offseason was so dramatically positive; they focused mostly on retaining key pieces such as Justin Forsett and Jimmy Smith while methodically addressing their secondary and other holes with under-the-radar additions. Other teams certainly made bigger splashes in the free agent pool.

But reviews of their machinations have been extremely positive, and that, combined with the fact that they ended their up-and-down 2014 on a high, with a pair of stellar playoff performances, is getting them noticed.

The truth is they're always well regarded by others in the league, viewed as smart, perennial contenders. That's what happens when you win Super Bowls and make six playoff appearances in seven years.

But it's also true that certain other teams do tend to generate more buzz at times, which makes this year's praise so … interesting.

Yes, it's just offseason blah-blah, something to mull in the lull before training camp. And yes, there are so many opinions on the Internet these days that any team can find pearls of encouragement, someone giving them props. KC Joyner, an ESPN.com insider, recently wrote that the Steelers should be considered the favorites to win the AFC.

"The Steelers might be the most overlooked team in the NFL," he wrote.

The Ravens should sue for copyright infringement.

And by the way, they were ranked behind three AFC rivals (Patriots, Broncos, Colts) in ESPN's post-draft power rankings, so not everyone is completely buying in.

Still, there's no doubt they're perched high in the eyes of many, widely judged as a talented, balanced and dangerous squad heading into 2015. Overlooked? No. Under-appreciated? Hardly.

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