Eisenberg: Ravens Flying Under the Radar (Again) as a Serious Playoff Threat


After the Ravens won Sunday, I turned into a sloth and spent much of the rest of the day on the couch, watching football. During those hours of television coverage, there were two words I seldom heard: "Baltimore" and "Ravens."

The team is in the hunt for a wild-card ticket to the AFC playoffs, but it's hard to tell.

Understandably, the broadcasters on various networks talked mostly about the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers because those teams played a terrific game Sunday and it appears they'll secure the AFC's top two seeds. Among other likely AFC qualifiers, the Jacksonville Jaguars also received attention for making the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

But the rest of the AFC contenders received somewhere between perfunctory recognition and none at all.

The Ravens may have ginned up more local enthusiasm by winning four of their past five games, but nationally, as playoff candidates, they're flying so far under the radar their feet are touching the ground.

Yes, NBC's Al Michaels did trot out the "you wouldn't want to face Baltimore in the playoffs" bromide on Sunday Night Football a week ago. But while that's a compliment, it's also a tacit acknowledgement that the Ravens aren't deemed among the serious contenders. Because you already know you don't want to face those teams.

An absence of national love for the Ravens usually raises a ruckus around here, playing into the long-held notion that the team isn't a darling and doesn't get the kudos it deserves – an argument I've always been skeptical about because the Ravens are respected inside league corridors as one of the sounder franchises.

But in any case, I'm thinking even the team's most loyal supporters probably understand why the Ravens aren't widely regarded as serious contenders, at least at this point.

Despite their recent success, they still have a lot to prove.

They're No. 27 in the league in total offense, No. 10 in total defense and 0-4 against opponents boasting better win-loss records than theirs. Their eights wins have come against teams that are a combined 31 games under .500, and in half of those wins, the opponent played a backup quarterback.

That's just not a set of facts likely to set neutral observers aflame.

The Ravens also aren't helped by the fact that they're currently listed as being outside the qualifying field because of a fine point buried deep in the tiebreaker rules, which are about as easy to comprehend as an ancient Greek scroll. (I'd say the only thing less decipherable is the painfully over-thought "catch" rule, which needs another re-write.)

As a result, almost no one outside of Baltimore understands that the Ravens do control their playoff fate – win twice and they qualify, regardless of what anyone else does.

Their prospects are so good, in fact, that they might even be able to win just one of their last two games and still get in, not that they want to roll those dice.

I'm sure the Ravens themselves don't care that they aren't getting much attention or being taken seriously. In fact, I'm guessing they like it. "Us against the world" can work wonders as a motivational tactic.

The reality is the Ravens probably weren't ready for the big-time stage earlier this season. Their passing game was too tepid. They were battling so many injuries.

But that doesn't mean they aren't ready now, or at the very least, taking the final steps of a process that will end with them being ready in January.

Their offense has picked up considerable steam. Their defense is ranked below those of just two teams in the AFC mix (Jaguars and Steelers). They've found a winning blueprint. Don't turn the ball over. Don't give up big plays. Control the field position battle.

It isn't sexy. "We love our punter" isn't a pitch that's going to convince analysts to buy what you're selling.

But if you've been through enough football wars, as some Ravens have, you know that if you take care of your business, you'll eventually have a chance to show the world you should be taken seriously. And in the end, that opportunity is all that matters.

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