Baltimore Ravens are flying beneath the radar, however should not be underestimated

“We haven’t won the Super Bowl yet,” mentioned Lamar Jackson this week, a factually right assertion, but additionally maybe an odd factor to utter for the quarterback of a group that was just lately 3-3.

But the Baltimore Ravens are fairly an odd group, one which nobody has absolutely labored out the way to correctly view, with a profile that by some means manages to suit the standards of a severe title contender and likewise that of a squad that may be disillusioned it hasn’t gotten extra to indicate for its efforts.

Coming off a bye week and heading into Sunday’s conflict with the Carolina Panthers (1:00 p.m. ET on FOX), John Harbaugh’s group have been described as dominant AFC North champs-in-waiting, missing in aerial offense, firmly on observe, worryingly inconsistent, and, by former NFL extensive receiver Brandon Marshall, the “best team in the entire league.”

To the critics, the hype is nonsensical. To the believers, the skepticism is silly. There is no such thing as a center floor.

“You have got to stop disrespecting the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson,” former NFL receiver James Jones mentioned on FS1’s First Issues First. “They are a team that can beat the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. This team right here is going to be a problem in the AFC.”

There are, certainly, a number of methods to take a look at Baltimore. Their 6-3 report isn’t any trivial achievement in a season the place everybody appears to be inside an ordinary deviation level from .500.

Are Lamar Jackson, Ravens official contenders?

Are Lamar Jackson, Ravens legitimate contenders?

The 6-3 Ravens are in first place within the AFC North. Emmanuel Acho, Pleasure Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman debate on whether or not the Ravens are a legit AFC risk, together with whether or not Lamar Jackson can cause them to a playoff run.

However whereas the Ravens’ mixed margin of defeat throughout three losses was solely 11 factors, the fact persists that they got here unstuck of their most vital video games of the season up to now, throwing away leads of 21, 17 and 10 to the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Payments and New York Giants.

In the event that they had been a school program, their largest challenge can be in convincing the committee that their energy of schedule passes muster, which is why the opinions are so divided with regards to analysis. The perfect group they’ve overwhelmed may truly be the New York Jets in Week 1, having caught Tom Brady’s Buccaneers at what was most likely the bottom level of Tampa Bay’s dip.

It’s fully potential that the Ravens can maintain motoring all the best way to a easy triumph within the AFC North and we nonetheless will not know precisely what they’re able to.

Whereas their schedule hasn’t precisely been overloaded with issue up to now, it is just going to get simpler — on paper, no less than.

Every of Baltimore’s subsequent eight video games come in opposition to a group that presently holds a shedding report, earlier than taking up the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4 as of now) in Week 18. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers look too muddled to pose any sort of divisional challenge, and the Bengals appear prone to slip every time they begin to seem threatening.

Harbaugh is encouraged by what he is seeing, and it should be no surprise that he’s his squad’s biggest cheerleader.

“That’s not going to be a problem,” he told reporters this week, when asked if the rest week could endanger his team’s momentum. “The season, it starts right back up again. We get a little bit of rest, and we get right back at it.”

There is a specific formula to what the Ravens are doing. They are overwhelmingly run-heavy, trying to pound their way into a lead that forces alterations in the offensive game plan of their opponent, shifts that tend to play into their own defensive strengths.

They have held a double-digit buffer at some point of every game so far, the only team in the league to do so. That’s why those on board think there is no limit to their potential this season, and that the comeback losses have really done nothing more than keep them under the radar.

“Teams are forced to pass when they’re behind,” Harbaugh added. “We have a plan in terms of how we envision our defense.”

Related: Ravens rank sixth in FOX Sports’ Week 11 NFL Power Rankings

It is hard to know what a culture is like within an NFL building, because pretty much everyone says good things about their teammates and keeps most of their gripes under wraps.

But the Ravens do seem to have an especially good rapport, which adds up to a sense of durability and permanence.

Some examples from the defensive line: Calais Campbell, 36, and Justin Houston, 33, could both have retired, but chose to come back for another year because they liked what it going on under Harbaugh.

On offense, Jackson has stayed within the confines of the playbook, except for some third-down freelancing, which is one of the most exciting things to watch in pro football. He already has the fifth-most rushing yards of any QB in NFL history. As for running backs, Kenyan Drake has been a 4.7-yard-per-carry stud in the absences of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins.

What would the conversation be like if the Ravens hadn’t squandered leads? They’d command a lot more of the NFL spotlight, that’s for sure. Another reason why Baltimore’s season seems low-key is the lack of blockbuster games against opponents with glittering resumes. Going forward, it may be an extra factor that helps them cruise along with little intrusion.

They are a steady group. Jackson’s contract limbo has been no distraction at all, and most often, the storylines are about Baltimore’s opponents, not them. Sunday’s clash with the Panthers is headlined by the return of Baker Mayfield, with Carolina QB P.J. Walker injured.

The Ravens’ big developments happen quietly. Adding linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears at the deadline was impactful. Having Demarcus Williams and James Proche ease into larger roles since top receiver Rashod Bateman went down has been key.

Things like calm perseverance, stability and attention to detail aren’t sexy, but they’re getting the job done in Baltimore. There is still some convincing to do as to their suitability to challenge for the biggest prize, but the Ravens might be their own greatest believers. If anything, the early-season setbacks may have guarded them against any latent complacency as the business end nears.

“I can’t sleep on our opponents,” Jackson told reporters. “One game at a time, a play at a time.”

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the every day e-newsletter.


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