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Late for Work: Are the Ravens the Top Team in the AFC?

NT Michael Pierce
NT Michael Pierce

Are the Ravens Top Team in the AFC?

The first half of the Ravens' regular season is (almost) complete after eight weeks and Baltimore sits atop the AFC North at 6-2.

Their 31-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals also brought them into a four-way tie in the AFC for the best record, matched by the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins. This has some pundits considering the conference's pecking order.

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley asked: Are the Ravens the best team in the AFC?

"The Ravens made that argument by following up a blowout of the Lions with a road victory over the one-win Cardinals," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore has the most favorable schedule to landing the top seed in the conference as they play six of their last nine games at M&T Bank Stadium, where QB Lamar Jackson is 26-8 for his career."

At the midpoint, the Ravens are worthy of being more than a team talked about for wild-card contention. They're valid in conversation of division winners and the coveted No. 1 seed with home field advantage throughout the postseason.

"Looking big picture, the Ravens are now in the mix for the top seed and a first-round bye in the AFC thanks to the Chiefs' loss to the Broncos," wrote The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon.

But for all the talk and excitement, the team is far from planning the parade, and so is The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer.

"And yet: The 6-2 Ravens did not look like the AFC's best team, as they had the week before in a demolition of the Detroit Lions," Shaffer wrote. "The 6-2 Ravens did not even look like the AFC North's best team, at least not Sunday. The 6-2 Ravens were outgained by the 1-7 Cardinals, who fell short in knocking off their high-flying opponent but at least managed to send them tumbling back to earth."

Will GM Eric DeCosta Make a Move at the Trade Deadline?

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Ravens, and the rest of the NFL, now have fewer than 48 hours to execute any trade before the clock strikes 4, and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec speculated on if Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta will make a move.

"It's hardly a given that DeCosta will be able to pull off a trade," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens have less than $3 million of salary-cap space, so that will complicate a deal of any significance. They are sitting on eight expected selections in the 2024 draft, but they have limited cap flexibility in the near future and draft picks will be needed to fill holes and add cheap and talented players."

The lack of cap space two seasons ago reportedly frustrated DeCosta when attempting to make a trade for Miami Dolphins defensive back Xavien Howard.

"DeCosta lamented his inability to make a deal before the 2021 deadline because the team lacked cap flexibility," Zrebiec wrote. "He's always said he wants to be in a position to add before the deadline. He's also considered one of the more aggressive general managers in football when it comes to wheeling and dealing."

But as DeCosta has said about making deals, "it takes two to tango," and it's unknown if teams are making big-name talent available.

"It's also unclear how much quality will even be available on the trade market," Zrebiec wrote. "Multiple reports over the last two days have suggested that guys such as Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter and Carolina Panthers pass rusher Brian Burns will not be traded unless their respective teams are absolutely blown away with an offer."

Yesterday morning, The Athletic's Dianna Russini reported that the Ravens are looking to add a running back. Then Gus Edwards rumbled for three touchdowns and 80 yards on a season-high 19 carries in Arizona.

Michael Pierce Gets Credit for Outstanding Performance

The spotlight on Sunday shined brightest on defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who overwhelmed the Cardinals as he totaled five tackles, one strip-sack, one tackle for loss and two fourth-down stops.

Most of Pierce's production as a nose tackle is generating openings for others to barrage the opposing backfield. But on Sunday, it was Pierce who earned commendations for his performance.

**The Baltimore Sun’s** Brian Wacker: "Michael Pierce was a tour de force, stopping several fourth-down tries, forcing a fumble and generally wreaking havoc in the middle of the line."

**Pressbox’s** Bo Smolka: "Defensive tackle Michael Pierce has quietly been thriving in the trenches this year, and he was as disruptive as any player on the Ravens defense against Arizona. … On a defense headlined by players such as Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen, Marlon Humphrey and the emerging Justin Madubuike, it's time to give Pierce his due."

**PFF’s** Gordon McGuinness: "Defensive spotlight:The Ravens were beaten in the trenches early in the game, except for Michael Pierce. The mammoth nose tackle was unblockable at times, finishing the game with four solo tackles, a batted pass and a sack and a forced fumble."

**’s** Eric Edholm: "Nose tackles sometimes are overlooked in modern football, despite their size. That is, when they're not dominating games the way Pierce did on Sunday. Pierce batted down a fourth-down pass, stuffed Cardinals RB Emari Demercado on a fourth-and-1 run and strip-sacked Joshua Dobbs for a 15-yard loss, with Arizona recovering the fumble but punting on the next play. … Time and time again, Pierce dominated his blocker -- often Froholdt or Will Hernandez -- and set the tone for the Ravens. Long live the 350-pound nose tackle. Pierce served a reminder Sunday that they still have a big place in today's NFL."

Unanimous Agreement: Winning is What Matters Most

The win on Sunday counted just as much as the Ravens' 38-6 victory over the Lions last week, the same amount as the Dolphins' 70-20 throttling of the Denver Broncos, and the same as those Broncos defeating the Chiefs on Sunday, 24-9.

Lost in the style points and expectations of standout performances is the reminder that the scoreboard is the single-most important part at the end of it all.

**CBS Sports’** John Breech: "The Ravens weren't anywhere close to perfect, but they escaped Arizona with a win and that's all that matters."

**The Baltimore Sun’s** Childs Walker: "On a day when other powerhouses suffered upsets, the Ravens will feel fine flying home with an unsightly win."

The Baltimore Banner's Chris Korman: "It's a good formula — and getting wins like this is important with the Bengals looking more like themselves Sunday. Sometimes in the NFL, even against one-win teams, you have to survive and advance."

**Baltimore Beatdown’s** Dustin Cox: "It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens got the win against the Cardinals, and an ugly win counts just as much at the end of the day as last week's dominant win."

**Baltimore Beatdown’s** Joshua Reed: "A win is a win and while the Ravens' road triumph over the Cardinals was far from pretty and nowhere near the offensive and defensive masterclass that they showed they are capable of last week, it still resulted in their third straight victory."

**Russell Street Report’s** Chad Racine: "Not nearly the dominant performance of last week's game but it's still a win. I'll take that instead of the style points with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland losing."

**Russell Street Report’s** Tanner George: "It certainly wasn't a dominant victory in the desert, but these are the types of wins that matter as we turn the calendar to November."

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