National and Local Predictions Differ

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The other day, I came across a major online wagering site's Super Bowl odds for the 2010 season. There was a list of every NFL team's chances of winning the big game.

I expected the Ravens to rank among the favorites, with relatively short odds. A lot of the conversation about them on talk shows, web sites, and cable television seemingly has been positive lately, with many national opinion-makers praising how they've niftily addressed their shortcomings since the end of last season.

So, I scanned the odds and found the Ravens listed as a 16-1 shot. Fair enough. The Colts and Saints were 9-1 co-favorites. The Ravens shouldn't be ranked with them.

But I kept perusing and was surprised to discover the Ravens, in fact, were deemed a longer shot than a handful of AFC teams – four to be exact. Along with the Colts at 9-1, the Chargers at 11-1, the Patriots at 12-1 and the Jets at 12-1 all were given better chances of winning the Super Bowl.

The Ravens, in essence, were ranked fifth among the AFC's 16 teams. And they were ranked ninth overall among the league's 32 teams, behind four in the NFC with lower odds (Saints, Cowboys, Packers and Vikings) along with those four in the AFC.

Now, I recognize that odds listed on some online site in mid-May are about as important as a kindergarten class' predictions. You can't give it much weight – none, actually.

But…ninth?

They fared slightly better in ESPN.com's offseason power rankings, released earlier this week with the Ravens at No. 7, still behind the Colts and Chargers in the AFC, but at least ahead of the Jets, for crying out loud (and also ahead of the Pats, whom they shredded in the playoffs).

As instantly disposable as such measurements are, they do provide glimpses of how unbiased outsiders view teams (as opposed to the fans and local media), and while the Ravens are getting plenty of respect – top nine is a nice place to be -- it seems they aren't quite viewed as the rarefied Super contenders that many around here expect them to be.

What I'm hearing around town is the Ravens are ready for a Super Bowl run after adding receivers to amp up their passing game and drafting some interesting defensive help along with a pair of tight ends.

But what I'm hearing in these high-but-not-real-high rankings is the rest of the pro football world saying, "Yeah, you're good, you're a lot better than you were, but your young quarterback is still learning on the job, and your defense is old in places, and your pass defense is questionable, and Ray Rice needs to play at the same level, and don't be shocked if another 'Where's Stover?' moment arises somewhere along the line."

I understand that there's almost always some disconnect between local and national opinions, that fans of all teams tend to overrate their favorites, myopically thinking the world revolves around their squad when, in fact, every other team is doing the same thing, trying to get better and win, and in some cases, doing so quite effectively.

But I also believe it's alright for fans of the Ravens to have high hopes for 2010. Their team seemingly is quite a bit better than it was in 2009. Their offense has the potential to be the franchise's most prolific since the days of Vinny Testaverde pitching to Michael Jackson. And their defense will rank high yet again if Ed Reed returns from his hip procedure in good shape and Terrell Suggs gets back to hassling quarterbacks.

Given those circumstances, the Steelers' troubling offseason and the inevitable gravitational pull dragging the Bengals back toward mediocrity, the Ravens almost surely will be consensus favorites to win the AFC North, advancing them to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, and three consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.

If they can get that far, who knows what lies in store? Locally, expectations are going to be running high -- very high, for better or worse. Nationally, while the expectations won't be quite as high, the Ravens will get their share of love. And in the end, they'll have to go prove themselves on the field, where odds and power rankings don't matter in the least.

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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