Eisenberg: At This Point, It's Super Bowl or Bust


Are we there yet? Have the Ravens driven their fans to that wonderful but slightly treacherous football destination known as "Super Bowl or bust"?

Ordinarily, I'd be hesitant to bring it up. It's quite a burden to place on a team, unfair in a way. The only appropriate ending to a wonderful season is a trip to the Super Bowl? Whew, that's rough, a high bar for any team to clear in any season. The NFL is insanely competitive. Stuff happens. And all those highs you experienced along the way get diminished if you fall short?

But there's no avoiding it, I think, after the Ravens' big win over the New York Jets Thursday night.

They haven't lost since September. Shoot, they've trailed on the scoreboard for all of nine snaps since Week 8. They're blistering opponents. They're on the verge of a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Their quarterback is close to a lock for league MVP. Their offense is close to unstoppable.

What other conclusion is there?

I'll give you the "gut" test: After watching Lamar Jackson and the Ravens dominate for so long, would you feel let down if they didn't get to the Super Bowl?

See what I mean?

Oh, sure, there'd be plenty to savor if they didn't make it, starting with a future as bright as a sunny spring afternoon. Seth Roberts is the only offensive piece not already under contract for 2020. The front office will have a ton of salary cap room to utilize in the upcoming offseason.

No matter what happens in the postseason, a window of opportunity has been thrown wide open and won't close anytime soon.

Still, the Ravens' odds of going to the Super Bowl can't be better than they are right now. Occasionally, in all sports, you just watch a team and understand it's their year, their time. A light doesn't literally come on, but you know it when you see it. That's where the Ravens are. The pieces have fallen into place. The usual obstacles have fallen away. A blend of talent, confidence and momentum has created a suffocating force.

That's not local bias. FiveThirtyEight's statistical model gives the Ravens a 38 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. No other team is higher than 16 percent. (For the record, I'm just talking about making the Super Bowl for now.)

That doesn't mean a trip to Miami is certain. Significant challenges loom in the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs have dealt Jackson two of his three regular-season defeats, including one in Week 3 this year. Dismissing the New England Patriots is beyond foolish. The Pittsburgh Steelers always play Baltimore tough.

My two cents, the Ravens should be most concerned about an opponent able to score with them, i.e., field an offense that can dent Baltimore's defense enough to keep up with Jackson and his unit on the scoreboard.

I think you're in trouble against the Ravens if you can't score a lot. But if you can, the Ravens' defense has wobbled now and then, most recently Thursday night early. That's how potential upsets start to form.

But to be clear, the most intense pressure will always be on the other team, not the Ravens. That'll be the pressure of trying to match a unique offense and dynamic quarterback whom defenses seemingly can't stop.

Some will suggest I'm late with this, that fans reached the "Super Bowl or bust" point a few weeks ago. Perhaps, but like many, I kept waiting for some sign that the Ravens would return to earth. Hey, even Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said Thursday night he'd been waiting for Jackson's "growing pains" game.

But Yanda is no longer waiting for that. Jackson is in command of every game, and the Ravens are locked in like never before, utterly sure of who they are and what they're doing.

"This is the best team I've ever been on," Yanda said. "We've won 10 games in a row. I've been on some great teams, but we never won 10 games in a row."

There are times to be cautious with expectations. Now isn't such a time.

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