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“We haven’t won the Super Bowl yet,” Lamar Jackson said this week, a true statement indeed, but also perhaps an odd one for the quarterback of a team that recently went 3-3.
However, the Baltimore Ravens are a rather odd team, one that no one has quite figured out how to properly watch, with a profile that somehow manages to fit the criteria of a serious title contender as well as a team that I might be disappointed. I didn’t get to show more for their efforts.
After a bye week and heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), John Harbaugh’s group has been described as the dominant champions of the AFC North, no aerial attacks, firmly. track, worryingly inconsistent, and by former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall as the “best team in the entire league.”
For critics, the hype is meaningless. For believers, skepticism is foolish. There is no middle ground.
“You have to stop disrespecting the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson,” former NFL wide receiver James Jones said on FS1’s First Things First. “They’re a team that can beat the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. This team right here is going to be a problem in the AFC.”
There are actually multiple ways to look at the Ravens. Their 6-3 record is no mean feat in a season where everyone seems to be within one standard deviation point of .500.
Are the Ravens legitimate contenders?
Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman debate whether the Ravens are a legitimate AFC threat.
But while the Ravens’ combined margin of defeat in three losses was just 11 points, the reality remains that they came unstuck in their biggest games of the season so far, blowing leads of 21, 17 and 10 to the Dolphins , Bills and Giants. .
If they were a university program, their main problem would be to convince the committee of their strength in the approved calendar, which is why opinions are so divided when it comes to evaluation. The best team they’ve beaten might actually be the New York Jets in Week 1, after they caught Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in what was probably the lowest point of Tampa Bay’s slump.
It’s entirely possible that the Ravens could continue to cruise to a simple win in the AFC North, and we still won’t know exactly what they’re capable of.
While his schedule hasn’t been overloaded with difficulty so far, it’s only going to get easier, at least on paper.
Each of Baltimore’s next eight games comes against a team that currently has a losing record, before the Ravens face the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4 as of now) in Week 18. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers look too confused to mount any sort of divisional challenge, and the Bengals seem prone to slipping whenever they start to look threatening.
Harbaugh is excited by what he’s seeing, and it should come as no surprise that he’s the biggest cheerleader for his staff.
“That’s not going to be a problem,” he told reporters this week, when asked if the bye week could jeopardize his team’s momentum. “The season, it starts again. Let’s rest a little and do it again.”
There is a specific formula to what the Ravens are doing. They are overwhelmingly execution-heavy, trying to push their way into a lead that forces them to alter their opponent’s offensive game plan, changes that tend to play to their own defensive strengths.
They’ve held a double-digit buffer at some point in every game so far, the only team in the league to do so. That’s why those on board think there’s no limit to their potential this season, and back-to-back losses have only kept them under the radar.
“Teams are forced to pass when they’re behind,” Harbaugh added. “We have a plan in terms of how we envision our defense.”
Related: The Ravens are ranked sixth in FOX Sports’ Week 11 NFL Power Rankings
It’s hard to know what a culture is like inside an NFL building, because almost everyone says good things about their teammates and keeps most of their complaints private.
But the Ravens seem to have a particularly good relationship, which adds a sense of durability and permanence.
Some examples from the defensive line: Calais Campbell, 36, and Justin Houston, 33, could have retired but chose to return for another year because they liked what was happening under Harbaugh.
Offensively, Jackson has stayed within the confines of the playbook, save for some third-down freebies, which is one of the most exciting things to see in pro football. He already has the fifth-most rushing yards of any QB in NFL history. On the running back side, Kenyan Drake has been a stud at 4.7 yards per carry in the absences of Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins.
What would the conversation be like if the Ravens hadn’t wasted punts? They would bring a lot more attention to the NFL, that’s for sure. Another reason Baltimore’s season looks down is the lack of big-hitting games against opponents with flashy resumes. In the future, it could be an additional factor that helps them navigate with little intrusion.
They are a stable group. Jackson’s contract limbo hasn’t been a distraction, and often the stories are about Baltimore’s opponents, not them. Sunday’s matchup with the Panthers is headlined by the return of Baker Mayfield, with Carolina QB PJ Walker injured.
The Ravens’ big developments happen quietly. The addition of linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears at the deadline was a shocker. It’s been key for Demarcus Robinson and James Proche to play bigger roles since top receiver Rashod Bateman went down.
Things like quiet perseverance, stability and attention to detail aren’t sexy, but they’re getting the job done in Baltimore. There is still some convincing to be done regarding his suitability to challenge for the biggest award, but the Ravens may be his biggest believers. If anything, early-season setbacks may have shielded them from any lingering complacency as the business end approaches.
“I can’t sleep with our opponents,” Jackson told reporters. “One game at a time, one play at a time.”
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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