Road dominance allows Ravens to take home path to potential Super Bowl

December 22, 2019 | Luke Jones

There was the “Mile High Miracle” and gratifying redemption against Brady and Belichick in Foxboro seven years ago.

Long before that, the Ravens won a bloodbath in Nashville and silenced the “Black Hole” on the way to their first Super Bowl championship.

There’s no shortage of playoff memories for a franchise with two NFL titles, 12 playoff appearances, and 15 postseason victories over the last two decades, but the overwhelming majority — all but six of 24 playoff games — have taken place somewhere other than Baltimore. The Ravens embraced that role of the underdog road warrior the top contenders didn’t want to play in January despite owner Steve Bisciotti lamenting the lack of home playoff games over the years.

Times have certainly changed as MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the Ravens clinched the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage for the first time in team history with a 31-15 win over Cleveland on Sunday. If we’re being honest, you’d probably like the Ravens’ chances against anyone at home, on the road, or even on Mars with the sensational Jackson at the helm right now, but the thought of needing to win only two home games to get to the Super Bowl is uncharted territory for this franchise.

Owning the league’s second-best home record since 2000, the Ravens always understood they needed to win more on the road in the regular season to play at home in January, but that’s easier said than done most years. In 2019, they didn’t just beat a franchise-record seven of eight away opponents in the bite-your-nails, too-close-for-comfort fashion you usually see in the NFL this season; John Harbaugh’s team flattened them.

Consider Baltimore’s five road victories of 14 or more points, three away wins by 36 or more, and astonishing point differential of plus-159 on the road. Only New England and San Francisco have better point differentials over their entire schedule this season. Kansas City, a Super Bowl contender and the only other team in the AFC with a 7-1 road record, scored 87 more points than its opponents away from Arrowhead Stadium this season, a gaudy number that pales in comparison to that of the Ravens.

It’s just another example of the Ravens making something difficult look incredibly easy this season. Demolishing doormats like Cincinnati and Miami on the road is one thing, but to embarrass the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams by 39 points on a Monday night and to topple a playoff team like Seattle by two touchdowns cements your standing as the class of the NFL.

That’s why there was no reason for panic Sunday despite the Ravens surprisingly going scoreless on their first four drives for the first time all season and falling behind in a game for only the second time since October. Despite the Ravens seemingly playing one of their worst halves of the season, it was only a matter of time before they came alive with two Jackson touchdown passes to Mark Andrews in the final 78 seconds of the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 14-6 lead at intermission. One of their patented half-quarter touchdown drives to open the second half gave Baltimore control of the game for good.

A 16-point road win feeling like a flawed performance reflects how special this team has been since that upset home loss to the Browns to conclude September. After eleven straight wins — six of those on the road — the standard has climbed to a level we haven’t seen in this team’s impressive 24-year history.

The Ravens are no longer that underdog road warrior and can’t claim any disrespect as they top power rankings across the country and enjoy 12 Pro Bowl selections. They also won’t have to hop on a plane to play a game again until the potential trip to Miami for Super Bowl LIV. Other contenders still don’t want to play them, but the difference now is any of those opponents — the Patriots, the Chiefs, or any other team in the AFC field — will have to come to M&T Bank Stadium as the underdog.

Baltimore hasn’t hosted the AFC Championship game since Johnny Unitas and the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3, 1971, but this city now has its best chance to finally host another one.

You can thank the Ravens’ dominance on the road for that home opportunity.