Earlier in the 2012 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens defense was ranked in the mid-20's of the 32 teams in the NFL. Teams were running and throwing the ball all over the field, yet Baltimore jumped out to a 9-2 start before faltering to lose four of their final five games to finish at 10-6.
Nonetheless, the Ravens still claimed the AFC North title for the second year in a row and won their first game in the post season for the fifth consecutive season, the only team in the league to be able to currently claim that. This was the highest scoring offense in Ravens history but people still look at the Ravens as a defensive team.
While that might not have been true for much of the season, the Ravens defense has rebounded and while being ranked 17th overall at the end of the regular season is not something Ravens fans are proud of, it shows marked improvement and could be a sign of a return to dominance as a unit.
In comparison, the Denver Broncos, were the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL during the regular season, behind the top ranked Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the ranking are based on total yards allowed, which is not alway a clear indicator of a defense's prowess. To me, unless offensive statistics, the only defensive stat that truly matter is points allowed.
The Broncos were fourth in the NFL, allowing a little over 18 points per game. Although the Ravens were only 12th, they only allowed the margin of a field goal more than Denver (21 ppg). The goal of any defense is to keep the opponent out of the end zone and both teams did an excellent job. The Denver defense gave up on 32 touchdowns all year and that number ranked them tied for 5th in the NFL.
However, don't discount Baltimore's stinginess in preventing the opposition from crossing the goal line. The Ravens were tied for 7th in the league, giving up only one more TD (33) this season than the Broncos. Despite being ranked in the middle of the pack, they gave up the exact same number of touchdowns as the top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers.
That means the Ravens might have given up a ton of yards in the middle of the field, usually between the 20-yard lines, but when their backs were against the wall in their own Red Zone, they stiffened up and help teams to field goals rather than permitting them to cross the plane of the goal line.
Therefore, before you lament the demise of the Ravens defense, remember that this past Sunday, they held the Indianapolis Colts without a TD, which should not be a coincidence when both Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs were on the field together for the first time all season. The Ravens defense is now healthier than it has been all year, including when they were first beaten by the Denver Broncos less than a month ago.
This should give Baltimore fans a reason to be optimistic, regardless of the confidence level in Denver or the wagering odds-makers, who have installed the Broncos as a 9+ point favorite on Saturday afternoon. Expect the Ravens defense to remind you more of the fabled one of recent years than the porous one that the Broncos exploited only a few short weeks ago.
Sometimes it's good to be the underdog with lesser expectations.