When it comes to determining your proper rung on the NFL's ladder in a given season, I like what Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once said.
"You are what your record says you are," he stated.
No doubt about it. There's endless chatter, all interesting, about who is overrated or underrated, underachieving or overachieving, winning or losing more than they should. But in the end, that's all merely speculation. Pro football is a bottom-line business, ruthlessly so. Your record is indeed who you are.
That's a bit sobering in the Ravens' case after their loss to Green Bay Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are a .500 team with a 3-3 record, same as the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers.
Whew. That's not company the Ravens expected to keep in 2013. None of those other 3-3 teams made the playoffs last season. In fact, none even finished with a winning record. They were a combined 31 games under .500. Meanwhile, the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Most of those other teams would be happy just to make the playoffs. The Ravens are accustomed to it. They think the playoffs are in their DNA.
But now they're a .500 team this late in the season for the first time since 2009. It's an organizational eye-opener, for sure. When you're at .500, you're literally the definition of mediocrity. If you're used to dreaming big and winning big, as the Ravens are, that's the worst part about it. A .500 record says things about you that you don't want to hear. It says you win some and lose some. It says you have nettlesome issues that keep coming up.
It also says you may have a bumpy road ahead. The Ravens still made the postseason in 2009 after winning three of their first six games, but it was a slog. Now it looks like they might have to slog their way in again.
But while the drawbacks of being .500 are many, there also are pros. Yes, there are. In today's NFL, the sky is still the limit for a .500 team. Mediocrity can get you somewhere. The whole point of legislating parity is to keep as many teams as possible in the hunt for as long as possible. Teams with .500 records are seldom eliminated. They always have hope.
If you think it's getting too late for the Ravens to get their act together, consider this: Two years ago, the New York Giants were a .500 team in late December, with two weeks left in the regular season, and wound up winning the Super Bowl.
In other words, the Ravens still have time, all sorts of it.
Yes, they have tons to work on, starting with a running game that continues to mysteriously cough and sputter. No, they can't afford to lose so many close games that they knock* *themselves out of the running. Yes, they need to resolve those nettlesome issues.
But in case you hadn't noticed, the NFL is nuts. Strange things happen every week. Being .500 in mid-October doesn't matter in the long run. What matters is where you go from there, whether you stay at .500 or go up or down. All outcomes remain possible.
Defensive backs have it tougher than anyone in the NFL. They're under intense scrutiny about what they can and can't do to receivers, where they can and can't deliver hits. They're penalized and fined when they miss the "target" zones, lambasted when they give up scores. The rules definitely favor offenses, the guys they're trying to defend. Have fun!
Sunday's on-field squabble between Aaron Rodgers and Matt Elam crystallized the issue. Elam knew he couldn't come in high on Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb because he would be penalized, so he came in low and wound up breaking Cobb's fibula. Rodgers was initially furious but calmed down after the Ravens' James Ihedigbo stepped in and explained that Elam had little choice.
"I appreciated a little intelligent answer back and forth about some of the issues defensive players have to deal with," Rodgers said. "I totally understand that and get that."
Elam was playing with the rules in mind, which is what the NFL wants. But unintended and unfortunate consequences are arising from having so many rules for defensive backs, and the league doesn't want that.