Eisenberg: Ravens Flying Under NFL Radar


I think we can officially designate the Ravens as "flying under the radar" near the halfway point of the 2014 season.

They're off to a nice start with a 5-2 record, good for first place in the AFC North heading into Sunday's important game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Yet for a team with that winning record, ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense and No. 8 in total offense, the Ravens aren't getting much love in the big-name power rankings. Last week, they were in mid-major territory – No. 10 at Pro Football Talk, No. 11 in Peter King's "Fine 15" and No. 12 in ESPN's rankings.

That's what you call a faint buzz.

It will get louder if the Ravens continue to win. But for now, it seems many analysts are waiting to see them do more before committing to them as upper-level contenders.

Fair enough. So far, the Ravens are 1-2 against opponents currently sporting winning records and 4-0 against opponents with records of .500 or worse. So while they certainly impressed in dismantling the Tampa Bay Bucs and Atlanta Falcons in their past two games, they need to beat some winning teams.

They'll get that chance in the next two weeks with back-to-back road games against the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that he is as interested as anyone to see how those tests go. Though pleased with a 5-2 start, "We have a lot of football to play, and we're not a good enough team right now to accomplish the things we plan on accomplishing," Harbaugh said, underscoring his belief that 5-2 is no reason to feel satisfied.

If pressed to predict whether the Ravens will be ranked higher or lower in those power rankings in, say, six weeks, as they enter the final month of the 2014 season, I'm guessing they'll be ranked higher. A season always contains ups and downs, but the Ravens have some things going for them in 2014 that suggest it will be a successful season in the end.

For starters, they have Gary Kubiak as their offensive coordinator. Baltimore has waited a long time to boast of a consistent, high-powered offense, and now, under Kubiak, it has one.

I don't know how long Kubiak, 53, will be here. He was a head coach in Houston before he came to Baltimore, and other teams surely are following his impressive overhaul of the Ravens offense, which was ranked among the league's worst in 2013.  But whatever his future is, he is on the Ravens' side this year, and their offense is much the better for it. It's an opportunity.

The Ravens also – no getting around this – have an easier than usual schedule this year, partly because they finished third in the AFC North a year ago, and also partly because the AFC South and NFC South, the divisions that their division is matched against this season, are both pretty underwhelming.

The next two weeks are tough, but the overall combined record of the Ravens' nine remaining opponents is 26-31-1. Of those nine, only Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Diego have winning records.

In the end, of course, what matters is how the Ravens play, not who they play. But as noted, the offense, which has long struggled to match the Ravens' powerful defense, is leading the way this year, and the defense is showing signs of becoming dominant.

I'm guessing the radar will eventually find them.

It surprised me that some Falcons got a little hot about the Ravens throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass with a little under two minutes to play Sunday. They thought the Ravens were piling on? Huh?

The Ravens were 15 points ahead when Joe Flacco threw the pass. What if it fell incomplete and Atlanta took over? Less than a year ago, the Ravens and Minnesota Vikings combined to score five touchdowns in the last 125 seconds of a game. This league is nuts. Crazy stuff happens.

Fortunately, Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith was a level-headed adult.

"I didn't have any objection" to the late touchdown, said Smith, a former Ravens assistant. "They called a play, we didn't stop them, and that's the end of it."

On paper, it appears the Ravens are catching the Bengals at the right time. The Bengals haven't won in three weeks (0-2-1). They were shut out Sunday in Indianapolis. Their star receiver, A.J. Green, has a toe injury. Their supposedly strong defense has allowed 43, 37 and 24 points in the past three games. But don't make the mistake of thinking all that means the Ravens will have their way Sunday. Cincinnati is now a desperate team needing to get its season re-started. The Bengals will be primed for a big effort.

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