If you need any proof that there was a seismic shift in the balance of power in the AFC North during Week 2 of the regular season, you need only to look at the various preseason power rankings and the current division championship and Super Bowl odds.
The season-ending injury suffered by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday and the so-so performance of the media darling Cleveland Browns in their first two games have changed everything.
The Ravens barely made the upper half of the NFL’s 32 teams in most major media power rankings released before the first weekend of the regular season. Now the wise guys in Las Vegas have them as the third-most-likely team to win the AFC championship and list only six teams ahead of them on the road to the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the loss of Roethlisberger has increased the odds against the Steelers winning football’s biggest prize to 200-1, leaving them in the heady company of the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Browns are generating a lot more skepticism and a lot less media hype than they were enjoying two weeks ago.
The Ravens, based on a variety of preseason projections, came into the season as the presumptive third-place team in the AFC North, but now look like a pretty solid favorite to successfully defend their division title.
So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice, but it’s also a curious position for them to be in at a time when they really haven’t proven all that much in their first two games. How does anyone evaluate a total blowout victory over the dismantled Miami Dolphins? And what are we to really think about the closer-than-expected victory over the Arizona Cardinals in their home opener Sunday?
Don’t misunderstand. There is plenty to be excited about with this team, and it is reflected well in the fact that the NFL’s two true super teams — the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs — are the only AFC teams with a better chance, according to the Vegas odds, of winning the conference title.
The Ravens will get the chance to measure themselves against the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City will be favored by about a touchdown, but the outcome of the game probably won’t impact the outlook for the AFC North unless Lamar Jackson doesn’t get up from one of his flashy quarterback keepers.
Perish that thought, but the Ravens are in a better position to weather such a loss than some of the teams that already are trying to get by with backup quarterbacks. The fact that the Ravens kept both Robert Griffin III and rookie Trace McSorley means that they have two mobile QBs in reserve who fit well into the offensive scheme the team has built around Jackson.
The real test facing the Ravens on Sunday will be on defense. The departure of free agents Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith and the release of Eric Weddle left an experience gap on that side of the ball, which could be exposed by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ explosive offense.
Last year’s top-ranked defense held its own when the Ravens traveled to Kansas City and lost by a field goal in overtime. This year’s model lacks the same star power, but hopes to make up for that with a quicker, younger group that will have to slow Mahomes’ roll if the Ravens are to stay in the game.
Regardless of the outcome, the Ravens will be well-positioned for the three-game stretch that follows against each of their division rivals. Two of those games are at M&T Bank Stadium, with only the game against the badly wounded Steelers on the road.
The division title might seem to be there for the taking, but don’t expect anybody at the Under Armour Performance Center to get ahead of themselves. The Ravens might look like the probable division champion on paper, but the football world can roll over on anybody at any time.
Just ask the Steelers.