Ravens In For A 'Rude Awakening' If They Don't Change This Trend
If the Ravens want to prove wrong the skeptics who are calling their undefeated record a "fraud" because of ugly wins during an early "cupcake" schedule, they should focus on reversing one trend.
Shoot, even if Baltimore doesn't care about the skeptics, it will want to improve this stat to better ensure a playoff spot.
The stat? Points differential.
If Baltimore doesn't increase its plus-13 points differential, it could be in for a rude awakening, says the statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight.
"Although 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore's record, I'm not sure 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore's team," wrote Chase Stuart.
Head Coach John Harbaugh is an analytics guy, so he might appreciate what FiveThirtyEight dug up about the previous 119 teams that started the season 3-0 (from 1990 to 2015), especially the ones with low points differentials.
Only four of those 119 teams had a lower points differential than Baltimore. Three of the four teams went on serious losing streaks and fell short of the playoffs. That's not a good sign.
Another bad sign: the 10 lowest-ranked 3-0 teams by points differential went on to average just 6.3 wins over the rest of the season. That implies the Ravens will finish 9-7, which usually is not enough for an AFC playoff berth.
For those worried about the Ravens opponents' combined 1-8 record, don't be. FiveThirtyEight showed that previous 3-0 teams against opponents with the exact same record finished with 10.9 wins. That usually is enough for an AFC playoff berth.
"So maybe the Ravens' easy schedule isn't a big concern, but it is smart to be worried about their low points differential," Stuart wrote. "Eking out close victories … are cause for plenty of doubts about the team's ability to be serious title contenders."
At least one 3-0 team has missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, according to ESPN's Stats and Information. Of the five remaining undefeated teams, it says the Ravens are most likely to fall short based on ESPN's Football Power Index simulations.
And guess what? It also points to the Ravens' points differential as a reason to doubt.
The Ravens only have a 52 percent chance to advance to the postseason, trailing the Philadelphia Eagles (82 percent), Denver Broncos (87 percent), Minnesota Vikings (92 percent) and New England Patriots (94 percent).
Ravens Finally Break Top 10 In National Power Rankings
The analytics paint a dreary picture of the Ravens' future, but at least the team is moving up the national power rankings. For the first week this season, Baltimore is consistently ranked in the top 10.
SB Nation: No. 6 (moved up four spots)
"The Baltimore Ravens are also climbing quickly, even though the schedule has been favorable to start the year. With aging players like Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Terrell Suggs all coming back and still getting back to full speed after suffering serious injuries a year ago, the team is playing strong defense and has a big-play receiver in Mike Wallace. Only [five] teams survived the first three weeks undefeated, so the Eagles and Ravens have earned their spots near the top."
CBS Sports: No. 8 (moved up five spots)
"They are 3-0, but the three teams they beat are a combined 1-8. So how good are they?"
Fox Sports: No. 8 (moved up six spots)
"Fact: The Ravens are 3-0. Also fact: The Ravens have beat three teams with a combined record of 1-8. That's not exactly impressive, but they are one of five teams with three wins right now."
ESPN: No. 10 (moved up three spots)
"The Ravens are unbeaten but those three wins came by a combined 13 points. That's the third-lowest points differential for a team that started a season 3-0 in the past 15 years. The 2-1 Raiders provide a tough test on Sunday."
NFL.com: No. 10 (moved up five spots)
"Baltimore is just making plays at the ends of games that other teams are not. Special teams and situational defense – two areas Baltimore excels in – are major parts of pro football."
USA Today: No. 13 (no movement)
"Can't do better than 3-0. But our enthusiasm is tempered by their opponents' combined 1-8 record and combined winning margin of 13 points."
Bleacher Report: No. 13 (moved back one spot)
"This is how the Ravens win football games. It's ugly. Get used to it."
Jalen Ramsey Keeps Talking
Getting national attention for his feud with 16-year veteran Steve Smith Sr. wasn't enough to motivate Jaguars rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey to lay low for a while.
On Tuesday, Ramsey posted an Instagram photo of running back Justin Forsett on his back with his feet in the air, while the 6-foot-1 corner stood over him in a power position. Some have mistaken Forsett as Smith in the photo, and while this wasn't another jab at the future Hall of Famer, it was another example of Ramsey talking smack.
I don't fault Ramsey for his confidence or brash style. After all, that's part of the reason Baltimore fans love Smith. The irony is Ramsey's caption saying he's all about action, while posting a photo online. Smith owns what he calls a "dirt bag" style.
And, Smith can back it up with an illustrious career that has him ranked among the top-10 NFL receivers of all-time. Ramsey has played in three NFL games, and has lost all three.
Rookie Class Making The Difference
There is one factor not getting talked about much in making a difference between the Ravens starting 3-0 this season compared to 0-3 in 2015.
That difference is the rookie class, says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
What was last year's class doing at this point? Zrebiec pointed out that wide receiver Breshad Perriman was injured for the entire year and tight end Maxx Williams had eight catches through the first six games. On defense, defensive tackle Carl Davis and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith "played sparingly early on."
This year, there are two starters on the offensive line with Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. Cornerback Tavon Young is making impact plays, wide receiver Chris Moore and outside linebacker Matt Judon rotate in regularly and defensive tackle Michael Pierce is a surprise undrafted rookie on a deep defensive line. Zrebiec even mentioned that linebacker Kamalei Correa, who hasn't played much on defense, has been a key special teams contributor.
"It's really been a night-and-day difference with this year's rookie class coming in and contributing immediately," Zrebiec wrote.