I'm somewhat hesitant to write that Sunday's game in Tennessee is especially big for the Ravens – like, capital letters BIG.
There's a lot on the line, for sure, but many games tend to look important when they're just ahead, then not quite as fateful when they're in the rear-view mirror and the next game (another big one!) is coming into view.
I've found you have to be oh-so careful with doling out those capital letters.
But Sunday's contest against the Titans warrants them, I do believe. It has the look and feel of a pivotal game going in, and I suspect the same could be true in its aftermath.
Think of the many ways a victory would boost a Ravens team seeking to re-emerge as a bona fide contender after missing the playoffs for the past three years:
- It would give them a winning record (2-1) on an early-season three-game road trip that had the potential to bring them to their knees if enough things went awry.
- It would give them a 4-2 overall record, an unqualified victory considering they've played two-thirds of their games on the road and now get to enjoy a schedule dominated by home games.
- It would give them the tiebreaker edge over a Tennessee team that made the playoffs as a wild-card qualifier last season and looks like a contender again in 2018.
- It would dilute the odor still emanating from last Sunday's loss in Cleveland.
The latter would be especially important, it seems. Cut off the bad vibe. Don't let it linger. Since 2015, the Ravens have an 11-12 record in games played the week after a defeat. That isn't a disaster, but I'm guessing they'd like to fare better. Every team loses games they didn't count on losing from time to time; the ability to bounce back from those is a key factor separating the contenders and pretenders.
The Ravens are off to a good start on that front this year with a 1-0 record after defeats – their Week 3 win over the Denver Broncos did a terrific job of re-framing the season after the Week 2 loss in Cincinnati.
Now comes another test when, no doubt, a bounce-back performance would come in handy. When you hear the Ravens talk about the importance of "stacking" good practices and good wins, well, the opposite is NOT stacking bad performances and bad defeats.
Conversely, think how different the Ravens' circumstances will look if they're unable to beat the Titans. They'll have gone 1-2 on the road trip. They'll be .500 overall, on a 1-3 reverse roll after a 2-0 start. Tennessee will own the tiebreaker edge over them.
Starting to see what I mean about the game being legitimately BIG?
Granted, given the NFL's innate unpredictability these days, the game could always end up being less weighty in the long run. I mean, the Ravens could lose Sunday and then proceed to rip off, say, eight straight wins. By December, no one would even remember they lost to Tennessee in October.
Of course, that unpredictability also means they could win Sunday and then start to slump; their schedule is tough.
But regardless, they'll still have 10 games remaining on their regular season schedule, including 75 percent of their home dates, when they return from Tennessee. Any eventual season outcome will still be possible, no matter what happens Sunday.
Nonetheless, every season contains seemingly pivotal games that stand a better chance of sending that season in one direction or another. That would not be the case with Sunday's game if the Ravens had won in Cleveland; with a 2-0 start on the three-game road trip, they'd be playing with house money, so to speak. But the Ravens did lose in Cleveland, ramping up the importance of what comes next.
Next Sunday's home date against the New Orleans Saints and record-setting Drew Brees is a marquee matchup that's bound to generate excitement and look big, too. But there's a difference between big and BIG, and, well, here we are.