Eisenberg: Why Ravens Need To Ignore Who They're Playing

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Admit it: at some point this week, maybe more than once, you've thought to yourself, "Boy, what a good week for the Ravens to play Oakland."

They just opened a season of high hopes with a frustrating loss in Denver. They can't afford to start with consecutive defeats, especially with back-to-back crucial games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers looming.

It makes Sunday's game something close to a must-win, and ordinarily, playing on the road in such a situation would have fans in Ravenstown sweating bullets. But the fact that the Raiders are the opposition changes the dynamic.

Ah, the Raiders.

They haven't had a winning season since 2002. Since the 2012 season began, they've won just 11 of 49 games. They thought they were on the verge of getting better in 2015 until they were obliterated at home by the Bengals in their opener.

With the Ravens coming off a game in which their offense sputtered and their defense suffered a major injury, yes, the Schedule Gods are working for them this week, not against them. It would seem an Oakland game offers them the chance to establish some footing, start working out their issues.

But while it's fine for fans and the media to think that, the Ravens themselves can't indulge. They have to block out the thought that the odds are with them in a big way.

They actually have to go out, make plays and win the game.

We're talking about mental discipline, the challenge of avoiding a letdown against a losing opponent. The Ravens have done a good job of it under Head Coach John Harbaugh. Other than in 2013, when they missed the playoffs because they lost to Cleveland and Buffalo teams that went a combined 8-22 against everyone else, they have a track record of winning games they're supposed to win.

Last year, they went 8-0 against opponents that finished under .500, winning three of the games on the road, including a 48-17 destruction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October.

Some fans probably think the Ravens should reprise that blowout this Sunday, and maybe they will, especially since both Oakland safeties are injured, opening the door for the Ravens to get their downfield passing game going. But predicting this week's results based on last week's performances can get you in trouble in today's unpredictable NFL, which Harbaugh calls "a week to week league."

The Raiders fell flat last week, but their new head coach, Jack Del Rio, is respected, and they'll be desperate to put on a credible performance after falling behind 33-0 against the Bengals. I wouldn't get carried away with the idea that they're just going to roll over. They have some fine young talent, starting with defensive end Khalil Mack. Harbaugh compared their active front seven to Denver's. And quarterback Derek Carr apparently is a go after leaving last week's game with a hand injury.

Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who faced Oakland twice a year when he played in Denver, said, "I'm familiar with the Oakland Raiders. There's always a talented roster, so we can never overlook an NFL team."

The best way to discourage an underdog opponent, I believe, is score early, maybe a couple of times. That touches on their nagging fear that they don't stand a chance. The Ravens have never had an easier day than when they scored five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes in Tampa last year.

But if that doesn't happen and a close game ensues, another way to avoid the upset, I believe, is by discouraging the opposing offense with sacks and three-and-outs. The Ravens defense would appear quite capable of that, although their pass rush is suddenly a work in progress with Terrell Suggs out for the year.

However it happens, the Ravens' only real goal is to board their plane home Sunday evening with a 1-1 record, which, honestly, was my best guestimate all along for where they would stand at the end of this season-opening road trip.

Yes, a 2-0 start, with both wins on the road, would have been something. But the opening loss will start to recede if the Ravens can bounce back with a win. All they have to do is ignore who they're playing and try to bring their "A' game, even when their "B" game might suffice.

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