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Eisenberg: Sleep on the Ravens at Your Peril

Head Coach John Harbaugh
Head Coach John Harbaugh

Let's start with the nutshell version of the AFC playoff picture.

In the beginning, everyone believed in the Chiefs. Then, they didn't. Now, they do again.

In the beginning, no one liked the Patriots and everyone loved the Bills. Now, no one likes the Bills and everyone loves the Patriots.

The Ravens? In the beginning, everyone was sort of on them but wondering whether to go all in. That hasn't changed.

They're a first-place team with a 7-3 record, good for the AFC's No. 2 seed if the playoffs started today. They're just a half-game behind the projected No. 1 seed, the Titans, who lost at home to the woeful Texans Sunday.

Aside from holding that projected top seed, the Ravens couldn't be in better position as the playoff race heats up.

But while they're widely acknowledged for having a terrific quarterback and a winning pedigree, they aren't anyone's sexy pick to make a deep postseason run.

That audible snoring sound you hear is, wait for it, everyone absolutely sleeping on the Ravens.

And I get it. I mean, don't you?

They might be 7-3, but they've trailed late in the fourth quarter against three of the worst teams in the league, the winless Lions, 4-7 Dolphins and 3-7 Bears.

They did pull out two of those games, but it took a miracle (longest field goal in NFL history) to save one and a desperate, late drive directed by a backup quarterback in his first career start to save another.

That's not going to inspire widespread confidence in their long-range prospects.

On the other hand, they've beaten the Chiefs, Colts and Vikings, three of the league's hottest teams; those wins look better every week.

But aside from when they dominated the Broncos in Week 4 and the Chargers in Week 6, the Ravens have either trailed in the fourth quarter or gone into overtime of every game. They're living on the edge, to put it mildly.

It's not a surprise when you factor in the many major injuries and other absences they're dealing with, which have contributed to ongoing issues with the running game, offensive and defensive lines, general consistency and giving up big plays. (Whew, that's a list.)

Other factors are also contributing to those issues, but regardless of what's causing it, the Ravens' pattern of surviving on great escapes inevitably puts a chill on their reputation.

On CBS' pregame show Sunday, the analysts reviewed their original Super Bowl picks and had an opportunity to make new picks if desired. The word "Baltimore" was never uttered.

Several analysts picked the Bills shortly before they absorbed a colossal beating from the Colts – the kind of loss that empties a bandwagon. But I'd be surprised if anyone who had the Bills would switch to the Ravens now.

For Baltimore's bandwagon to start filling, it's going to take several performances that are more dominant than death-defying.

The Ravens love this, of course. They're never happier than when they're being slept on.

Being doubted and overlooked is an effective motivator here because the Ravens are more gritty than glamorous (although Lamar Jackson is changing that), yet they quietly know better than most franchises how to stack winning seasons.

This season, to date, is a textbook example. The Ravens have led the league in players on injured reserve, but they've survived by being savvy, resourceful and prepared, all of which is code for knowing how to win.

My two cents, you sleep at your peril on a team that finds ways to win instead of settling for easy rationales for losing.

A week after the Steelers had to play their No. 2 quarterback and only managed a tie at home against the Lions, the Ravens won on the road, in the wind, with a No. 2 quarterback who didn't know he was starting until a couple hours before kickoff.

It was ugly, for sure, and won't pull a crowd onto their bandwagon, but habit, not luck, was the force behind it.

As Yogi Berra might have said, sometimes ugly can be beautiful.

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