Are the Baltimore Ravens may be better suited for being an underdog? Yes. I think they are:
The Baltimore Ravens are set to play the Pittsburgh Steelers after their bye week. We’ve got some time, but the way things are shaping up the Ravens may end up the underdog in the big AFC North clash. The Steelers go into their game with the Tennessee Titans undefeated. As long as they don’t lay an absolute stinker of a performance, the Steelers will go into the week eight game with all the momentum and confidence in the world.
The Ravens, who walked into the year as Super Bowl contenders, who had a 14-2 season and the MVP in 2019 are going to be the team with the lesser amount of buzz. Is this a good thing? Should the Ravens become official underdogs, will that work to their advantage? It probably can’t hurt and it could help a lot.
Think about the worst moments in the Lamar Jackson days of Ravens football. Did the playoff loss to the Titans come to mind? The Ravens were the number one seed, and most people (including the Ravens themselves) were looking forward to an AFC Championship in Baltimore.
Did you think about the loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football? It was supposed to be the game of the century and it was in Baltimore. It was the Ravens’ night, they just had to go out there and take it.
Expectations are the bane of the Ravens’ existence. The Ravens have won big games with Jackson as the quarterback. They took down the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Texans (before they were kind of awful). They beat the Los Angeles Rams 45-6 on Monday Night Football.
It’s the moments where they have something more than just a win to gain, that become problematic. It’s living up to their world beater reputation in a game where they have to prove something that has been problematic. It’s the reason Greg Roman starts calling pass after pass and everything tightens up and nothing good happens until the game is out of reach.
For the purple and black to get where they want to be they have to have some times where they dug deep and proved people wrong. They have to have times when it looked bleak just before their greatest glory. The Ravens need to be doubted, they need to be the underdog. They need the classic chip on their shoulder because being the team that is supposed to win has become a mental hurdle.
The Ravens are one of the most talented teams in the league. They may have gotten past an easy six game slate with the exception of a battle with the Chiefs, but they have five wins because of that talent. The Ravens are absolutely a Super Bowl caliber team but everybody keeps saying they seem out of sync. The expectations may have been set too high, but more than that this team is in a 14-2 hangover.
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It’s a little like a Super Bowl hangover, it just doesn’t come with the hardware at the end. The Ravens keep trying to find their 2019 selves, the team that everybody in the world knew was going to cut right through their opponent like a buzz saw.
The Ravens keep trying to live up to the phantom of the best season the franchise has ever had. The problem against the Chiefs wasn’t that they failed to get over the hurdle. The problem against the Chiefs was the Ravens not realizing that they weren’t at the same phase they were at when they lost in the playoffs. The 2020 season was a fresh start. All that momentum is gone. That season is over. This team is a brand new version of the Ravens.
The Ravens haven’t begun to peak. In fact they haven’t even begun to show us who they really are. Ravens fans can’t go on and on about how the Steelers haven’t beaten anybody and then ignore the same fact about their own team. Are the 2020 Ravens Super Bowl contenders? They might be. It’s just that the 12 game win streak didn’t carry over to the 2020 season. They need a new team defining moment because these moments don’t carry over from year to year.
Lamar Jackson has had to prove people wrong every time he has touched a football. His whole thing is proving people wrong. He was the last quarterback taken in the first round in 2018. He was asked by scouts if he would change positions. He started winning and people called it an unsustainable gimmick. Jackson proves people wrong and is the unquestioned leader of the Ravens.
Being an underdog means Jackson and the Ravens still have something to prove. Being the expected winner means they have something to lose. It’s a simple change in mindset yet it could save a Super Bowl caliber team’s season. Being the underdog is what Jackson does best. It’s always been what John Harbaugh does best.
The Ravens used to relish chances to go up to play the New England Patriots, on the road, in the playoffs. They used to play fearlessly in those spots and that’s why they gave the Patriots fits on multiple occasions, in games Tom Brady was just supposed to win. They won the Super Bowl after beating Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, after the Broncos were almost deemed unbeatable.
John Harbaugh, as much as Ravens fans should revere him, doesn’t know how to coach as a front runner. He just doesn’t. It’s antithetical to his personality and to the core of everything that makes him a Harbaugh. He always has a chip on his shoulder, he’s always looking to tackle the big dog. That’s who he is. That’s what he’s about. Protecting a mantle of The Team to Beat isn’t him. It’s not the place his best work is going to come from.
Putting it all together:
So you have a quarterback whose mission his entire career has been to prove people wrong with a hungry coach whose specialty is coaching the underdog. Mindset is everything and barring the Ravens hiring a good sports psychologist, the state of momentum kind of has to swing against them. It’s the only way to unleash a vintage styled Ravens team, one with more talent than ever.
So here is my pitch to the sports media, to the fans, to the football world: Talk up the Steelers and talk down the Ravens. Make the Ravens the underdog. Make beating the Steelers a chip on the collective shoulder of the purple and black. Make it a mission to prove people wrong. Make it the Ravens vs. the world. That’s where the Ravens always wanted to be. That’s where they should be. That’s where they will win.