Prior to the arrival and rise to stardom of Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens often played the role of the perpetual underdog. Even though they were a tough out almost every year, they were never the media darlings because their offenses over the first quarter-century of the franchise were hard to watch and abysmal at times, which led to a lot of low-scoring affairs.
The Ravens have not only been accustomed to being overlooked and underrated through the years, but they have thrived in that role. They have managed to rise to the occasion time and time again and never back down from the challenge of facing the overwhelming favorites in any regular season or playoff game.
Dating back to their first Super Bowl winning season in 2000 when they fielded the best defense in NFL history, the Tennessee Titans were viewed as the overwhelming favorite to come out of the AFC and the Ravens weren’t highly thought of in the media and were constantly cast in an unpleasant light.
During their run to their second title in 2012, they were slightly more revered but weren’t expected to beat either the Denver Broncos or the New England Patriots in the playoffs. The only game they were favored in during that entire postseason including the Super Bowl, was their Wildcard bout with the Indianapolis Colts.
Fast-forward to nearly a decade later and they have an electrifying talent at quarterback, unlike anything the game has ever seen, who is just a season removed from winning a unanimous league MVP. Yet, they find themselves being overlooked once again as they are set to embark on what they hope will be the third championship-winning season in franchise history.
As the Patriots and Titans of old, the Kansas City Chiefs are the new big bad bully in the AFC and the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl for a third straight year. While the Ravens are firmly entrenched among the NFL’s elite, most of the media view the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills as bigger threats to the Chiefs’ supremacy.
Their infatuation with the two teams is certainly warranted given the offseason that both of them had in between the draft and free agency, as well as the strides they made last season. The Bills defeated the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs and that same weekend the Browns took the Chiefs to down to the wire.
However, against Patrick Mahomes last year, neither faired better than Jackson’s Ravens and they both were ultimately bested. The Chiefs had a double-digit lead over the Browns before Mahomes went down late in the third quarter. Buffalo faced off with Kansas City twice last year both in the regular and postseason and lost by two or more scores both times.
While the Ravens may not have made as many splashy or high-profile player acquisitions as the Browns or Bills, they were able to address all of their needs with several under-the-radar moves for affordable veterans and had a strong draft.
They have just as good of a chance to dethrone the Chiefs as either of the aforementioned teams. Even though the gap between the Ravens and Browns has gotten a lot closer, at least on paper, Baltimore has had Cleveland’s number with Jackson at the helm (4-1). Yet, they aren’t even favored to win their own division in the eyes of most pundits.
I say let the national media prematurely crown the Browns as the AFC North champs before they’ve even played a preseason game. Let them hold out hope for a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is holding onto their legitimacy as contenders by a thread with an aging quarterback past his prime behind the ruins of what was once one of the better offensive lines in the league. Let them be overly optimistic on the chances that the fledgling Cincinnati Bengals can actually compete at a high level this year.
All the while, the sleeping giant that is the 2021 Ravens will continue to fly under the radar until it is time for them to soar to greater heights and win the ultimate prize. By that time it will be too late to hop back on the bandwagon but I’m sure they’ll attempt to cover their bases along the way. However, we all have seen, heard, and read the receipts of doubt and skepticism that coincided with the seemingly unrelenting hype for their more heralded competitors.
John Harbaugh coached teams can always be counted on to be both physically and mentally tough. They are also among the most dangerous teams to face when the odds are stacked against them to succeed. I’m sure they feel much more comfortable not being talked about and hyped up as much heading into this season as they were last year coming off a historic 2019 campaign.