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Eisenberg: A Showcase Game for Baltimore


It's going to be a good week around here. The Ravens are 5-2 and solidly in first place. Interest in them is soaring due to their quarterback being one of the NFL's most unique playmakers. Now they're gearing up to host the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football – a marquee moment with serious wattage.

Regardless of what happens, there's a lot to be excited about, a lot to anticipate. And boy, are the good vibes welcomed. These haven't always been the best of times in Baltimore, in sports and otherwise.

Recent news headlines included the deaths of local icons Elijah Cummings and Tommy D'Alesandro, and before that, the city getting name-called and dragged through the mud last summer. In sports, the Orioles just concluded their second straight season of 100-plus defeats. They'd played here since 1954 without recording triple-digit losses in back-to-back seasons. To be clear, I'm in favor of the Orioles' organizational rebuild.

The Ravens weren't a sure bet to be a source of light amid the gloom. They had a 44-45 regular-season record between their triumph in Super Bowl 47 and the injury to Joe Flacco that elevated Lamar Jackson to starting quarterback last November. It seemed they were stuck in a cycle of mediocrity.

No one could have imagined how quickly they would become un-stuck with Jackson. They've gone 11-3 in regular-season games. They've got a great shot at a second straight division title. Jackson, 22, is still working on some tools of his trade, but he's unlike anyone else in the league.

A victory over the undefeated Patriots would illustrate how far they've come and also hint at what they could accomplish. The Patriots are the NFL's gold standard. They've won six Super Bowls this century and look more formidable than ever in 2019, having outscored eight opponents by 189 points.

Beating them is a daunting challenge. Their defense is setting records. Tom Brady runs their offense. On the road against a winning team Sunday, they're still favored by five points. I came across a stat that they've won 21 straight games against rookie and second-year quarterbacks.

But the Ravens are getting them in Baltimore this time, a bit of a rarity – seven of the past nine games between the teams, including regular-season and postseason contests, have been played in New England going back to 2010.

The Ravens also will be coming off their bye, giving them two weeks to prepare – a circumstance they've often used to their advantage under Head Coach John Harbaugh, who is 9-2 in post-bye games.

The game also will unfold before what is sure to be an amped-up crowd anxious to see Jackson and the Ravens receive their due on a national stage.

The best thing about sports teams is their ability to bring communities together, give people a subject they can share, a communal reason to cheer. Those aren't easy to find, but the Ravens become one whenever they play, and like the rock band in "This is Spinal Tap," they'll push the meter to 11 this week.

To win, they might need a jolt from rookie receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, who is expected back from an ankle injury. They'll also count on cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a knee injury to fortify their pass defense.

But as always, their fortunes will depend mostly on Jackson. The prospect of him lining up against the Patriots' defense is sure to lure one of the season's biggest TV audiences. Who knows what you might see?

It's ludicrous to suggest a football game is important enough to solve the city's problems, which are dire in some cases. That's real life, as opposed to fun and games.

But I'm not suggesting the game can do that. I'm just saying it's nice to have something so fun and positive going on. On Sunday night's big stage, others will see that, when it comes to football, things in Baltimore actually are going quite well, thank you.

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