The Baltimore Ravens are in the midst of their fifth straight playoff campaign, with the ultimate prize only one win away. The Ravens’ 10-6 regular season, which saw them winning the AFC North, wasn’t as picturesque as their Super Bowl run may imply.
What is most remarkable about the Ravens’ playoff surge is the manner in which they entered the playoffs. Baltimore entered Week 13 at 9-2, but the lofty record did not reflect the state of the team. Aside from the gift-to-offensive-coordinators known as the Oakland Raiders defense, Baltimore’s supposed high-octane offense was beginning to sputter. The franchise formerly known for their defense was also beginning to have trouble stopping opposing teams, thanks in part due to injuries to many key defensive starters.
The Ravens escaped with a victory in San Diego with the help of the infamous 4th and 29 play by Ray Rice, a game that Baltimore undoubtedly knew they were lucky to come away with. The Ravens then proceeded to finish the regular season with four losses in five games, giving them negative momentum going into the playoffs (although to be fair, the final loss to Cincinnati was a meaningless game).
It has been well documented in this column that playoff football has a life unto its own, and the Baltimore Ravens have done their part to validate my ingenious claim. The Ravens may have hobbled into the playoffs on the tail end of a bad run, but Ray Lewis’s return gave Baltimore life that they had previously been failing to display.
The Ravens’ defense is making big plays and stops that were previously not happening, and the formerly lifeless offense has been revitalized. Flacco and the Baltimore offense had been labeled as a one trick pony that relied on big plays to generate scoring. While the big plays have remained a constant in the playoffs, so have crucial drives led by a confident Joe Flacco.
The Ravens were a popular playoff pick in recent years, but they were written off for almost every postseason contest this year. Many pundits expected the Andrew Luck-led Colts to take down the Ravens in their own house, and Baltimore responded to the haters with a definitive 24-9 victory. Baltimore may have been the benefit of several Denver Bronco mistakes in their divisional round win at Mile High the next week, but it’s impossible to knock any team that can emerge victorious in a double-OT playoff contest.
The San Francisco 49ers are a more well-rounded team that appears to be more dangerous, and many will likely pick them to beat Baltimore. By now it’s obvious that the Ravens could care less; Super Bowl Sunday is just another game they are not supposed to win, and they couldn’t feel better about the expectations.