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Eisenberg: Sunday's Game Features America's Team vs. The Other Guys


Let's be clear about the role the Ravens will play in their game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.

They'll be the Other Guys, the foils in a drama starring their more famous, popular opponents.

They'll be obscure, purple-clad, slightly alien visitors; maybe not quite a faceless homecoming foe but … close.

No doubt, the Ravens warrant more respect than that. They're a successful team with a large, avid following. They've won two Super Bowls since the last time a Cowboy coach held the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft.

But some battles you just can't win.

The Cowboys are America's Team, the world's most valuable sports franchise, according to Forbes magazine. They've won five Super Bowls. They dominate the football media. They play in a massive stadium that serves as a testament to opulence with its gigantic scoreboard, art museum and enough blinking signage to make you feel like you're in Times Square.

Even when they're losing, which has been the case more often than not lately (they've had one winning season since 2010), the Cowboys are a big deal. But in a development few anticipated, they're actually winning this year; and not just winning, but dazzling, with two rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, leading the way. That makes them a really big deal.

With the NFL's largest TV audience of the season watching Sunday, they scored in the final minute to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, an achievement the Ravens certainly respect. And after that thrilling contest, Cowboy fever is officially spreading through the football world.

They've won eight straight games. They're envisioning a deep playoff run. It's emerging as the story of the year: America's Team is back.

Now Dallas is taking on the Ravens, otherwise known in this scenario as Not America's Team. They're the underdogs, the props, the lesser figures in the drama.

Honestly, I think it's a great position to be in; a great role for them to play.

If I'm the Ravens, I'm fine with knowing all eyes will be on the other team Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

There'll be no pressure on the Ravens, no assumptions, no great expectations weighing them down. But to borrow what a great country high school football coach once told me about his team: they aren't coming in on a load of matchsticks.

In other words, they do have some things going for them that could, cough, make it a game. They have the league's top-ranked defense, for instance. That's a nice start. The Cowboys' young playmakers will provide a supreme challenge, but Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees' unit has been playing well.

The Ravens also have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback coming off his most productive game of 2016, and a kicker who hasn't missed all season. They're Not America's Team, but they're in first place, with a chance to really grip their division race if they somehow pull off a surprise. They have a ton to play for.

I do think the Ravens have the defense to make the game interesting. The question is whether their offense can muster enough points, especially with an offensive line jumbled by injuries.

But regardless, you couldn't draw up better circumstances for a circle-the-wagons effort, which was what the Ravens engineered when they found themselves in the same position the last time they played in Dallas.

Maybe you remember. In 2008, the Cowboys played their final game at Texas Stadium, wanting to close out that chapter in their history with a win. The Ravens were designated fodder with Flacco as a rookie under center and John Harbaugh as a first-year head coach. But Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee broke epic touchdown runs and the Other Guys prevailed.

It was one of the Ravens' great nights, signaling the start of a winning era with Flacco and Harbaugh. Overall, the Ravens are 4-0 in their history against Dallas, quite an oddity. In business since 1960, Dallas has piled up anywhere from three to 67 wins against every other NFL team, but the league's glamour franchise is winless against the Ravens.

The Ravens will still be the Other Guys Sunday. The Cowboys are riding high, coming off a big win, with a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Washington Redskins looming. The Ravens are just something on the to-do list. More than a few Dallas fans will look at them and ask, "Who ARE those guys?"

It's great motivation.

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