I know it’s early by schedule standards, but the Ravens are 2-0 and leading the AFC North after three weeks. The strong start by the Ravens just proves that much of what we thought about the NFL going into the 2008 season can be turned around in a few short weeks.
For example, this week we have a 2-0 Ravens club coming off two straight division victories playing a 2-1 Steelers team that did not look good against a Philadelphia club that battered Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. In the other division game, we have a pair of clubs that were expected by many to challenge the Steelers for the division title: the 0-3 Browns at the 0-3 Bengals. That’s right, the two Ohio squads are a combined 0-6 and the loser of that game will have their postseason chances severely crippled.
Other AFC surprises: Buffalo, at 3-0, leading the East by a game over the Patriots, who got thoroughly outcoached by a motivated Miami club on Sunday; 3-0 Tennessee, which has not missed a beat since Vince Young was injured, pacing the South in front of the 1-2 Colts and the 3-0 Broncos, which out-lasted a determined New Orleans team in a shootout. The 0-2 Chargers have to find a way to beat the Jets on Monday night or fall three games behind Denver in the West race.
In the NFC, Dallas and the Giants are playing to form as both are 3-0 and sharing the East lead. Despite a stinging loss to the Cowboys, the 2-1 Packers still have the North lead, and the Vikings do not look like a NFC championship team yet. The South has three 2-1 teams and guess which one of this group really doesn’t belong: Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta. The Falcons have beaten hapless Detroit and Kansas City at home while the Bucs and Panthers are legit. New Orleans, a team expected by some to be the NFC representative to the Super Bowl, is 1-2 with a banged-up defense. Oh, and in the West, surprising Arizona and San Francisco lead at 2-1, one game better than predicted division champ Seattle.
Back to the Ravens, momentum is a wonderful thing in football. Despite some early Cleveland success, the Ravens dominated in all three phases to smother the Browns. The offensive line kept QB Joe Flacco upright and allowed him time to find receivers. He had a couple of mistakes on throws for interceptions, but that is expected for a rookie QB. Teams are starting to figure out Flacco’s strengths and weaknesses, but Cam Cameron’s balanced offense with new wrinkles has kept opponents from exploiting the shortcomings for the most part.
The defense was relentless for the second straight game, and the Browns looked as confused as the Bengals did a couple of weeks ago. Special teams also was strong with Jim Leonhard filling in for Yamon Figurs.
Can Baltimore keep up the pace? The easy thing to do is to look at the upcoming schedule and predict out how the Ravens will do against their opponents over the next few weeks. As the above look at the early division leaders, disappointing teams and the Ravens’ own start shows, it is a dangerous thing to look too far ahead.
“What’s Important Now” is the slogan of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. What’s important for the Ravens is to concentrate solely on the challenge that the Steelers will have for them next Monday in Heinz Field, and not to worry beyond Pittsburgh. If Ravens’ fans are understandably giddy about Baltimore’s undefeated start, they would be wise to heed Harbaugh’s advice as well.