The Ravens will enter their preseason finale Thursday night against the Washington Redskins with 53-man-roster spots to settle, schematic ideas to wrinkle out, and the NFL’s most interesting and least significant dynasty to maintain.
Over the past 1,110 days, the Ravens are 16-0 in preseason games, the longest such winning streak over the past 25 preseasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau. A victory at Fedex Field would complete their fourth straight undefeated preseason. The team last lost on Sept. 3, 2015 — about a week before Stephen Colbert debuted as the new host of CBS’s “The Late Show,” about a month before the Orioles’ Chris Davis won his second Major League Baseball home run title, about a year before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in their first U.S. presidential debate.
Even as the NFL has evolved in the past three-plus years, turning wide-open passing attacks into a near-prerequisite for championship aspirations, and even as the Ravens have changed with it, shedding aging stars for up-and-comers, August has remained their domain. The team has cruised with no-name headliners: Josh Woodrum! Kaare Vedvik! Kai Nacua! It’s just skirted by thanks to stars in the making like Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. No matter who’s started, the Ravens have finished ahead.
It’s an era of dominance that could feel distant before long. As complaints over player safety mount and the 2021 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement with players approaches, four- and five-game preseason slates no longer seem like a part of the NFL’s future. These Ravens preseason teams might one day be remembered like the 1972 Miami Dolphins, conquerors of a bygone era in league scheduling.
[ Ravens’ Robert Griffin III feels Andrew Luck’s pain ]
That is, if anyone cares to remember preseason excellence.
“I don’t know how significant it is,” coach John Harbaugh said Thursday, after the Ravens’ 26-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in a weather-shortened game. “It’s significant in the sense that our coaches do a great job of coaching in training camp. We develop players really well. I think we do a really good job as an organization — scouts, coaches and everybody — of bringing in competitive guys and good football players that want to work hard in training camp.
“Maybe we get out in front just a little bit. … We coach everybody from the top to the bottom of the roster. You could speculate that that has something to do with it. We think it does. Other than that, that’s probably it.”
Whatever the Ravens have done, it’s worked. In Harbaugh’s 11-plus seasons as head coach, they’re 36-12 in preseason play. They’ve won 14 of their past 19 preseason road trips. In three games this month, they’ve outscored the Jaguars, Packers and Eagles by a combined 81-28, an average margin of victory of nearly 18 points per game. Jacksonville, which like Green Bay and Philadelphia started a backup at quarterback, didn’t even make it past midfield in Baltimore.
For as daunting as the Ravens’ preseason conditioning test is — six 150-yard shuttles, with only short breaks in between — their body of work since 2016 is even more formidable. Over their 16 wins, they’ve scored almost twice what their opponents have (383-192), forced nearly twice as turnovers (28) as they’ve committed (16), amassed over 800 more yards (4,697-3,843) and committed 36 fewer penalties.
A gambler backing the Ravens throughout the run would’ve made a small fortune. (Or at least enough to afford a permanent seat license at M&T Bank Stadium.) According to historical betting odds from Covers.com, the Ravens have been an underdog in six of their past 16 preseason games; they’ve outperformed Las Vegas’ expected margins therein by a combined 66½ points.
In the 10 games in which the Ravens have been favored, they’ve covered the spread all but twice. The lone exceptions came last year, when the Ravens beat both the Bears and Colts by just one point. Even those were white-knuckle results: Chicago was a 2½-point underdog, and Indianapolis a two-point underdog.
Of course, the Ravens won their three other games by a combined 53 points.
[ Projecting the Ravens’ 53-man roster ]
“You talk to guys, and they’re well aware that that’s what’s been going on the last couple of preseasons,” rookie quarterback Trace McSorley said after Thursday’s win, in which Jackson and several other key players did not start. “I think at the end of the day, winning is what matters, so I think if you’re able to come in and get a win, everybody is going to be real happy at the end of it.”
But preseason success is fleeting. Nearly 40 players on the Ravens’ roster will be cut by next week. Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Sunday that while winning is a “good habit,” his defense’s game plan hasn’t changed from game to game. The real scheming won’t start until the regular season starts.
And it doesn’t take much to extinguish a preseason firestorm. The Ravens have gone 27-21 in the regular season since 2016, appearing in the postseason just once. Two years ago, the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks also went unbeaten in the preseason. None made the playoffs, either. The Browns went the other way, from 4-0 to 0-16, one of five winless seasons in NFL history.
While no Super Bowl champions this millennium has exited the preseason without a win, the link between August perfection and February glory is tenuous. Over the past 10 seasons, the 23 teams who’ve swept their preseason schedule went a combined 161-207 in the regular season. Just eight made the playoffs, including the Ravens three times. Only one, the 2013 Seahawks, lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
The Ravens know they can’t win a Super Bowl in August. They can’t even win a regular-season game until Sept. 7. All they can do this week is prepare to win another preseason game.
It’d be No. 17, but who’s counting?
“We just try to get better every day,” rookie running back Justice Hill said Thursday. “The objective of every game is to win it, so we go in there and want to win the game, and that’s what we do.”
Baltimore Ravens Insider
The Ravens have not lost a preseason game since Sept. 3, 2015. Over three-plus unbeaten preseasons, they've dominated opponents in almost every facet of the game.
Category; Ravens; Opponents
Wins; 16; 0
Total points; 383; 192
Yardage; 4,697; 3,843
Penalties; 115; 151
Turnovers; 16; 28