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Eisenberg: Somebody Shout ‘Fire!’? Ravens’ Bandwagon Has Emptied Too Fast

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Well, that was fast.

The emptying of the Ravens’ bandwagon, I mean.

It was still pretty full just a week ago, before last Sunday’s game in Carolina. Even with a 4-3 record, the Ravens were in the top 10 of most media power rankings. Their close loss in their last game was being spun positively because the New Orleans Saints are for-real Super Bowl contenders and the Ravens had them down late, just couldn’t finish the job.

Yes, there was still a nice-sized crowd on the bandwagon as the Ravens headed to Carolina. Fans saw them as serious contenders. Neutral observers saw them having a chance to go somewhere.

But there’s been a stampede for the bandwagon’s exits since the Panthers thumped Baltimore last Sunday.

What Carolina’s Norv Turner and Cam Newton did to the Ravens’ top-ranked defense was more effective at clearing out the bandwagon than someone shouting, “Fire!” The rush has been frenzied enough that some of those departing possibly were trampled, like the poor souls at the front of the line when the doors to their favorite store open at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Suddenly, plenty of good seats are available on the Ravens’ bandwagon. Like, just about every good seat.

I can point to several measurables reflecting this decline in faith. Bovada, the online sports book, now lists the Ravens as 33-1 to win the Super Bowl; that’s down from 18-1 a few weeks ago. And this time last week, Baltimore was in the top 10 of all but two of the dozen power rankings tracked in Late For Work. This week, just two of those power rankings have Baltimore in the 10.

Locally, there aren’t measurables as much as a general feeling I detect. There was a lot of optimism about the Ravens this year, especially after they blistered the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football. It seemed they were going places. But a loss in Cleveland undermined some of that optimism, and the Carolina blowout turned it into skepticism.

I don’t know if the players and coaches can sense that, or if they care. Honestly, they have more important things to worry about with the Steelers coming to Baltimore for a rematch Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s a huge game for the Ravens, with no less than their ability to challenge for the AFC North title on the line. As they’ve prepared, they’ve surely focused not on on the public’s whims, but rather, their checklist of fix-its: 1) get healthier, especially on the offensive line; 2) pressure opposing quarterbacks more; 3) rediscover their deep passing game; 4) reverse their negative turnover ratio.

If the Ravens successfully engineer a bounce-back performance Sunday, you can be sure some of those elements will play a role.

It could easily happen. The Ravens are almost always a tough out at home. They’re playing a team they’ve already beaten in 2018. That means nothing Sunday, but it does reassure the Ravens that they’re favored (by a field goal) for a reason.

My two cents, it’s a tad premature to jump off almost any NFL team’s bandwagon after eight games, let alone one that has as much going for it as Baltimore. Yes, the Carolina game was an eye-opener, but the Ravens still have five home games left, an improved offense and a defense that has played a lot of good football in 2018. It’s an encouraging package.

If they win Sunday, they would be 5-4 heading into their bye, with a season sweep of the Steelers in hand and another important game looming at home, against the Cincinnati Bengals. That scenario is promising enough that some of those who fled the bandwagon might even hoist themselves back in and re-claim their seats.

Fickle? No doubt. But a bandwagon isn’t a ballpark, where re-entry is forbidden. You can jump on and off as a season unfolds. In fact, many fans do just that while tracking the dramatic weekly swings that are typical in today’s NFL. If you think you might be inclined along those lines, just make sure you hold onto your ticket.

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