For Baltimore Ravens, the First Hump is the Biggest One

Evan LichterContributor IMay 30, 2009


I’ve heard many people claim that the NFC East is the best division in football.  Although, it is the oldest division in football and hence, has the most championships, I cannot agree with this statement. 

I see the NFC East in the past 10-15 years as being a couple of over hyped teams, which year in and year out show flashes of greatness, crumble when the pressure is on, and generally dwell in a state somewhere between mediocrity and good. 

Meanwhile, the AFC North holds three of the past 10 championships.  Excluding the AFC East, which simply has the Super Bowl ring collecting Patriots, and a few of their favorite doormats, this is more than any other division.

Now I’m not saying that the AFC North is necessarily the most competitive division because of that, but the argument could easily be made that we have two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in our division.  Upon the return of Carson Palmer, the Bengals may be more of a threat than people are willing to give them credit for as well.

However, without a doubt, the important rivalry in the AFC North is between the Ravens and the reigning champion Steelers

This is an obstacle as well as a positive influence for the Ravens, who will try to maintain the momentum they built last season when emerging as an overachiever in the face of what should have been a rebuilding year.

The presence of another one of the NFL’s elite-perhaps the elite team in the league within the Ravens division just makes it that much more difficult for them to make the playoffs.  Nonetheless, there is a foreseeable upside to this situation. 

If the Ravens do come out of the division on top, especially by way of a Pittsburgh defeat, it will give them tremendous momentum. 

Instantly, the Ravens will arguably be the team to beat in the AFC.  On top of that, the similarity of the two teams would automatically place the Ravens, upon besting the Steelers, as a viable contender to win the Super Bowl. 

Both teams play old school, hard-nose football.  They hit hard and fight for every inch on both sides of the ball.  It has been said that defense wins championships.  It has also become clear that having a good rushing attack is part of the winning formula as well. 

I believe this is because when you get to the post-season and you are gradually being narrowed down among the elite teams, at that level of intensity, it comes down to fundamental football: running and stopping the run. 

Brady ran games up to outrageous scores all season, finding Moss in the end zone for endless highlight reels, to the point of needlessness.  Yet, the Giants defense shut them down up front with a ferocious defensive line. 

In addition, the Patriots linebackers were brutalized by the Giants relentless three headed rushing attack all game.  In turn, came unquestionably one of the most shocking upsets in history.

Being that the Ravens and Steelers follow the same formula, when they play each other it is just a question of which of the team does it best.  Seeing how the Steelers reinforced that formula as a winning one in Super Bowl XLIII, if the Ravens had come out atop the AFC, it’s very plausible that they would have seen the same result.

Playing the Steelers just puts the Ravens at the top of their game, and as a young team on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before they overcome their shadow.  When they do, they will only be more prepared to take on AFC powerhouses like the Patriots and Colts, and whoever else may stand in the road to a championship.