Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 31-15 win over the Cleveland Browns.
CLEVELAND — It’s always tough playing on the road, but there are two places in particular in the AFC where it’s extremely hard to win. One is Kansas City, and the other is Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots.
The Ravens breathed a sigh of relief Sunday after clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs with a 31-15 win against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Five of the past six Super Bowl champions were the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences, which bodes well for the Ravens, who have won 11 straight games. If they continue to win, they don’t have to go to Kansas City or Foxborough.
Buffalo’s New Era Field is a tough place to play, and so is Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. But the Bills haven’t been good in a long time, and the Ravens have no fear of playing in Pittsburgh, where they have already won this season.
But Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and New England’s Gillette Stadium are different. There is likely to be snow on the ground in both places and bitter cold. Both stadiums are in the middle of nowhere, and there is only one way in and out of Gillette.
But at least fans in Kansas City are nice and it is the best stadium in America to watch a game because of the tailgating, history and atmosphere. In New England, Patriots fans can be the most arrogant, obnoxious, self-entitled group in the NFL.
“This is awesome,” Ravens defensive tackle Domata Peko Sr. said of having home-field advantage. “We’ve talked about it during the week and before the game. We have to keep grinding one game at a keep, keep marching because this team is something special. But the next away game we might play could potentially be in Miami [for the Super Bowl].”
There are several advantages of playing at home, especially in Foxborough. Few opposing players and coaches want to admit it, but the Patriots have a huge psychological advantage in Gillette. Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been caught cheating multiple times, and that affects the psyche of visiting teams.
Whether you want to debate it or not, there is a perception, and sometimes perception is reality. We’ve all heard the stories about the deflated balls and “Spygate," with the filming of opposing team’s hand signals and sidelines.
In Cleveland, there were stories about how Belichick, then the Browns coach, used to water down the field the night before Cleveland played a good running team at home. Opposing coaches have talked about losing power in their headsets during games and how Belichick works the officials to get favorable calls.
It’s understandable that coaches want an advantage. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has pushed the envelope, too. In the 2018 preseason, the Ravens were fined $200,000 for having multiple players on the field at the same time with the communication devices. That came three months after the team was forced to forfeit two organized workouts and was fined because it had violated league rules governing contact during offseason drills.
In the NFL, there is an old saying that “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
But the Ravens don’t have to worry about those head games in New England. They don’t have to be concerned about the confines of Arrowhead, which might be the loudest stadium in the NFL. The Chiefs can blind you with that sea of red, and their announcer does a great job of getting those fans jacked.
Well, not this year. If the Ravens advance to the AFC championship game, they just have to focus.
“I think focus is the No. 1 word,” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “I think the guys need to focus. We talked about it in the room yesterday as an offensive line where everybody needs to make sure that for the next month of your life that football is No. 1 in your life, that focus needs to be there and that everything else is pushed aside the next month to focus on football, focus on your job. No distractions.”
It doesn’t sound like much, but there is more to playing at home than just crowd noise. Don’t get it wrong, that’s important, especially when it comes to creating a raucous atmosphere and drowning out the signals and audibles from opposing quarterbacks. But the bye week gives the Ravens an extra week off, which is vital late in the season.
The players won’t have to travel. They get to spend more time at home, and they get to sleep in their own beds.
“We are a heavy running team, so it’s a physical game every Sunday,” Yanda said. “The week of rest is going to be huge. Obviously, playing at home, we don’t have to travel. We don’t have to get on an airplane. We are right in our backyard, there is where want to be and it is definitely an advantage.”
“I think it’s going to help us a lot,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Let guys rest and recover. We’ve been battling all season on this run. We have to find ourselves some more.”
The Ravens still need to improve, especially on defense. But they have about three weeks before they play a game of real importance. The game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday isn’t a must-win situation, and then the Ravens have a bye.