Whether it’s better to be good or lucky is debatable. And although it may not have felt like it, the Ravens have been plenty of both this season. And with the playoffs set to begin, it’s getting easier and easier to believe, or hope that their luck will continue.
Their journey has been improbable, their style at times unfathomable, and as it stands today, you could call their chances all but impossible, but yet, the chance still remains. For 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams, the dream has ended for this season at least, while somehow the Ravens play on.
We’ve cursed them, bemoaned them, disparaged them, and in some cases even wrote them off, yet here they are. Here we are. So maybe it’s time to give credit where credit is due. Preseason expectations notwithstanding, the journey to this point has been a tough one, and one that this team, and it’s faithful should be proud of.
We all know better than to look at the schedule before the season begins, and try to assess our team’s chances. This is the NFL after all, which we all know can stand for “not for long”, as both success and failure in this league are usually short term propositions.
Still, we do it anyway. We allow the lingering euphoria or disenchantment from the previous season to shape our expectations for the next, and we assume that the teams that we’ll face will at least somewhat resemble the teams that they were from the previous campaign as well. So this season began, and we all began counting the wins in our heads.
My guess is that most of us couldn’t have been more wrong. We all knew that drawing Indianapolis and New England in the 2 uncommon games would be daunting, but on top of that, the Ravens had 2 trips to the west coast, always a difficult proposition, to face the Raiders and Chargers, while Pittsburgh and Cleveland both got the benefit of shorter travel to Kansas City and Denver, additionally, San Diego and Oakland had to make the difficult coast to coast trip to play the Steelers, seeming to stack the deck just a bit further against the Ravens. (For the record, Cincinnati had the same west coast travel to make as the Ravens)
Let’s also not overlook the fact that 7 of the Ravens 16 games this season have been against playoff teams, with 3 others (Pittsburgh and Denver) against teams that only missed the playoffs because of the beatings the Ravens gave them. They had to face playoff bound Minnesota and Cincinnati, plus a feisty Denver team in consecutive weeks, all coming off of their byes, and saw a playoff bound Packers team on 10 days rest, or as quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it, their “second bye” after they disposed of the Lions on Thanksgiving.
And forget about the 800 pound gorilla in the division, the defending champion Steelers, given the season that the Bengals have had, all signs seemed to point to this just not being the Ravens year. And yet, here they are. Here we are.
If I had told you before the season, all that was just laid out above, and then mentioned the playoffs, I imagine I’d have gotten the old Jim Mora, as they call it now. But imagine if I had told you before the season that the Ravens would make the playoffs if and only if, Tennessee lost 6 straight to begin the season, the Steelers lose 3 of 4 to the Browns and Bengals and lose to the Chiefs and Raiders, a 6-0 team manages to miss the playoffs altogether, and no other wildcard contender gets double digit wins; even as I type it now I’m having trouble believing it.
Maybe, if you look at things that way, it is the Ravens year. The folks in New York couldn’t have been feeling much more confident about their 10-6 Giants two years ago than we are right now about the Ravens. And no one was paying attention to Arizona as a serious contender when the playoffs began last year, and although they didn’t quite finish the deal, they were just seconds away.
It’s not beyond possibility that things could break the Ravens way in the playoffs. It sure didn’t feel like they were catching many breaks during this season, yet in hindsight, short of taking care of their own business, every other star seemed to align just perfectly for the team, otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are right now. Even as the playoffs get set to begin, the Ravens continue to seemingly catch breaks.
And so begins the NFL’s second season, and the Ravens face the daunting task, on paper at least, of traveling to New England to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and if they win, they’ll be rewarded with a trip to Indianapolis. But we all know about letting expectations get ahead of us. The Patriots haven’t been the Patriots all season, and now on the precipice of the playoffs, Wes Welker is lost, and if you believe the reports, Tom Brady is hurt pretty badly. If they survive to see the Colts, they will not have taken a meaningful snap in a month by that time. We all know what the Colts’ playoff history has been in seasons where they tried to dial it down early, and then turn it back on again. All things considered, you have to like the Ravens’ chances; even before you consider that solid defense and a strong ground game are staples of playoff success throughout the history of the league.
On the surface, it’s easy to embrace the Ravens chance at a new year and a new season. But as we’re learning, what’s on the surface isn’t always easy to figure out. And contrary to popular opinion or belief, the Ravens have been blessed and rewarded beyond any reasonable expectations already this season by the football gods, or whomever. I, for one, am not quite ready to turn the page on that just yet.
As the playoffs approach, for the second season in a row, there are lots of things that the team can do to improve, there are lots of areas where they can simply afford to stay consistent, but maybe more than anything else, they’ll have to stay lucky. That’s right; stay lucky, because in hindsight, the Ravens have been nothing if not lucky. Hopefully their luck will be a little more overt in the playoffs.