After a record-setting season, the Ravens haven’t met expectations so far in 2020.
The good news for Baltimore? Neither has the rest of the NFL.
The Ravens are 4-1, having beaten all four teams by 14 points or more, including a 38-6 victory against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener and a 27-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. They remain one of the favorites to win the AFC, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, but not because of their style or dominance.
It’s because the league has gotten worse.
Since the turn of the century, the NFL has prided itself on parity. There’s the often-used slogan, “on any given Sunday," because games are so unpredictable. For the most part, that’s true, but not anymore. Nearly half of the teams in the NFL are really bad.
The Ravens finished the 2019 regular season with a 14-2 record, including 12 straight wins, and had the best running game in the history of the league. They aren’t near that level yet. They are a team looking for answers.
Their defense can dominate poor teams but couldn’t get off the field in a Monday night loss to Kansas City. Their once-heralded running game hasn’t been consistent, and the passing game has been virtually nonexistent.
But look at the rest of NFL. The Seattle Seahawks (5-0), Los Angeles Rams (4-1), Green Bay Packers (4-0) and Chicago Bears (4-1) are the best teams in the NFC, while the Ravens, Chiefs (4-1), Buffalo Bills (4-0) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0) are the best in the AFC.
Then there are the bottom-feeders.
The Minnesota Vikings (1-4), Washington Football Team (1-4), Bengals (1-3-1), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4), Houston Texans (1-4), Denver Broncos (1-3) or Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1) all have a case to be the worst. And poor New York. The city has two winless teams in the Jets and Giants, who have combined to go 0-10.
It’s so bad that two coaches, the Texans' Bill O’Brien and the Atlanta Falcons' Dan Quinn, have already been fired. The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 2-3 record.
Every season, there is a stretch in the schedule that usually determines a team’s fate. With the Ravens, that was supposed to begin Nov. 1 when then they hosted the Steelers. After their bye, they would play consecutive road games at the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, host the Tennessee Titans and play at Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.
There is nothing to fear about this schedule any longer.
The Steelers' wins have come against the Giants, Broncos, Texans and Eagles, who have a combined record of 3-15-1, and Pittsburgh squeaked by in three of those games. The Colts (3-2) had the top defense in the NFL until Sunday, when they lost to the Browns, 32-23, and quarterback Philip Rivers choked again.
Tennessee and New England? Both teams have been hit by COVID-19, but you can be certain that Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his former assistant, Titans coach Mike Vrabel, have used the time wisely to gain an advantage over their opponents, either with practices or video sessions.
As for the Ravens, they are good enough to win now, but not good enough to win a championship. They haven’t gotten much better since the season started, and it’s hard to get a true evaluation. Opponents such as Cleveland and Washington offer very little challenge, and the Bengals were a joke. No team should allow their quarterback to be sacked seven times and hit 15 times the way Cincinnati did.
It’s not just because these teams missed preseason practices — there is a lack of fundamental instruction.
The Ravens-Bengals game was ugly and hardly representative of the NFL, but perspective is probably needed here. A few months ago, there was uncertainty about whether there was going to be an NFL season. The Ravens still have 11 games remaining, which is more than enough time for them to find a groove and hit their peak going into the postseason.
Folks, it could be worse. The Ravens could be the Bengals or the Texans.
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Or you could live in New York with the Giants and Jets.