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Ravens best in NFL? Some saying yes

Improving to 4-1 after their most convincing win of the season, the Ravens have the best record in the NFL.

So, are they the best team in the league at Week 6?

Click on the Sports Illustrated website and they're atop Peter King's "Fine 15." Turn on "Sunday Night Football" and NBC analyst Tony Dungy is saying the Ravens looked "like the best team in the AFC today." Look at the NFL rankings Wednesday and expect to see the Ravens on top of many of them.

All this talk just makes Ravens coach John Harbaugh shake his head.

"We know how bogus it is. It means absolutely nothing," he said a day after the Ravens' 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos. "The same guys that have got us up there this week had us way down there two or three weeks ago. We don't care. It's irrelevant to us. We just think it's all hot air."

Harbaugh added, "Anytime they're saying nice things about you, we're very wary. We like it when you don't say nice things about us. We like to read that."

The Ravens relish the underdog role, but it's difficult for this team to stay under the radar. The only other teams at 4-1 this season are the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. The Ravens' record is more impressive considering that they beat the New York Jets in their opening game at the New Meadowlands Stadium, delivered a last-minute comeback win at Pittsburgh and slowed down the NFL's top passing attack in defeating Denver. The players, though, share Harbaugh's attitude.

"We don't care if we're considered the best team in football," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "If you want to call us the best team in the league, so be it. We know we have a long way to go."

The Ravens' next challenge is playing a motivated New England Patriots team. It was only nine months ago that the Ravens went to New England and routed the Patriots, 33-14, in the playoffs.

"The last one, those are the ones you kind of remember," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. "I think we've moved on from all those and now we have a chance to play that team again. It's a new matchup, a new game, but … hopefully, we can learn from some of the things that happened in that game."

This marks the first game for the Patriots without wide receiver Randy Moss, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings. But New England has had time to regroup because last week was its bye.

The Patriots are 8-2 under Belichick after regular-season byes. The last time they lost after a regular-season break was eight years ago.

"They have a proven track record after the bye," Harbaugh said. "That's something we'll be bucking up against, and we'll be looking forward to it."

A victory would further solidify the Ravens as the best team in the NFL. But the Ravens' focus is just to be a better team each week.

"We feel like we have a pretty special team here," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We've got to continue to progress and do some better things out there week to week, and I think that's what we're really showing right now."

Here are four areas where the Ravens have improved from last season:

Penalties: The Ravens have gone from committing the most penalty yards in the NFL to having the most penalties committed against them.

In fact, the Ravens have averaged fewer than 31.6 yards in penalties per game than their opponents this year. On Sunday, the Ravens had half as many penalties as the Broncos (10).

"In all honesty, I think our guys understand how to play better than ever before," Harbaugh said. "I think we're playing with composure, playing with technique and attention to detail. And the big ones, holding, defensive pass interference, I think we've done a good job with that and maybe some other teams haven't. And the other thing is, I think we've put pressure on people. The speed of the game, the pressure you bring, sometimes they have to grab you to cover you."

Third-down defense: The Ravens' defense has stepped up on the game's most important down, allowing teams to convert only 26.6 percent of the time. That's decidedly lower than 2009, when offenses converted on 36.7 percent of the third downs.

That statistic is more impressive considering that the secondary is without half of its starters from last season (safety Ed Reed and cornerback Domonique Foxworth).

"When you're putting together a unit, you see them as a whole," Harbaugh said. "We felt like this could be a good group playing together. It's the whole that matters."

Pass protection: Flacco has been sacked the second fewest times in the NFL. Last season, he was the sixth-most-sacked quarterback and had a large bruise to prove it.

With right tackle Jared Gaither out with a back injury, the offensive line has needed time to jell. Flacco has been hit only four times the past two weeks.

"When you build your team, you start in the trenches," Harbaugh said. "If you can't win in the trenches, you can't win."

Kickoffs: The Ravens had four touchbacks the entire 2009 season. Billy Cundiff had that many against Denver. That's a major weapon this season when it seems as if every team is returning a kick for a touchdown.

He has to continue to place kickoffs in the end zone Sunday. Patriots returner Brandon Tate is "emerging as one of the best kickoff returners in the league," according to Harbaugh.

Cundiff is tied with the Indianapolis Colts' Pat McAfee for the league lead in touchbacks with 11.

"I don't think there's any secret sauce," Cundiff said. "I just think it's the fact that you're starting out at 22 [years old] and you continue to get better every day. Then hopefully, by the time you're 30, you're doing what I'm doing now."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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