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Eisenberg: National Media Doubt Ravens Again, Which Is A Good Thing


As an organization, the Ravens aren't lacking for motivation in 2016. Their 5-11 record in 2015 provides plenty of impetus.

But as their slow crawl toward the regular season continues with a mandatory minicamp – the last checkpoint before training camp – at the Under Armour Performance Center next week, more inspiration keeps rolling in.

It's coming in the form of, well, let's call it a yawn from other participants in the national football conversation.

For what it's worth, the Ravens aren't getting much love in this silly season of punditry, preseason prognostications and general puffery.

Pro Football Focus recently rated their roster as the NFL's 17th best, which isn't terrible but also isn't exactly fist-pump-worthy. Cantor Technology, a gaming service based in Las Vegas, lists them as a favorite in just six of their 16 games in 2016. Bovada, a Vegas sports book, ranks them squarely in the middle of the AFC pack as Super Bowl contenders, giving seven teams better odds of making it, including both of their divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals

Speaking of the AFC North, Joe Platania of PressBox reports that he has seen 2016 predictions in three publications and all have the Ravens finishing in third place for a fourth straight year, with Pro Football Weekly saying they'll go 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

It's June, so these assessments aren't worth the paper they're printed on or the cloud space they're occupying, but presented together, they do provide a general portrait of how others see the Ravens.

My two cents, it could be worse after last season, which, remember, has prompted caution even inside the walls of the organization. Before the draft, GM Ozzie Newsome said it would take until the third or fourth preseason game, or even later, the first month of the regular season, to gauge the team's mettle.

In a way, it's actually encouraging that others aren't automatically predicting another losing season. What I sense, above all, is uncertainty, an understandable reaction given that the Ravens are counting on so many key veterans coming back from injuries, starting with quarterback Joe Flacco.

But while it's better than the brush-off that opinionistas usually give 5-11 teams the next year, it's still a collective shrug, which doesn't exactly jive with the Ravens' upbeat locker room vibe that has formed since the 2015 season ended.

In a conference call with season ticket holders earlier this week, newcomers Eric Weddle and Benjamin Watson both said they came to Baltimore to win a Super Bowl and can envision that happening now that they're here.

"We feel this team is close," Weddle said. "Baltimore was everything I wanted and more, and it has exceeded everything I want. The only thing that will top it off will be to bring a Super Bowl back here, and that's my main goal."

If anything, the signings of Weddle, Watson and receiver Mike Wallace offered a clear indication that the organization remains focused on winning now, as opposed to taking a step back and rebuilding. Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta confirmed as much in March, telling reporters the playoffs weren't just a goal, but a realistic goal.

"We have ammunition to do it. We have a lot of smart guys, evaluators, coaches, people working on the same page to get this team relevant again. We want to play postseason football," DeCosta said.

But they'll try to do it with the NFL's 17th best roster, according to Pro Football Focus.

The collision of (inflated) local and (deflated) national opinions is an old story, of course, especially in Baltimore, where some fans and even some in the Ravens organization have long believed other teams get more respect. Regardless if that's true, it's an effective motivational tactic for Head Coach John Harbaugh to wield if he chooses. As I've noted before, few comments inspire today's athletes more than "there are doubtful doubters doubting you; what are you going to do about it?"

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