"Inconsistency" is a word Baltimore Ravens fans are all too familiar with. It has been used to describe the Ravens over and over again and, unfortunately, it may be the only way to adequately summarize the Ravens' up-and-down performances this season.
The Ravens are 8-3 and in the lead in the AFC North due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In many ways, their record speaks for itself because there isn’t a single bad 8-3 team. That is, a team needs to be doing something right to win eight games in the NFL.
For teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 8-3 record is sufficient for the fans and analysts. People understand the type of team the Steelers are because their losses have all been against quality opponents—the Ravens twice and the Houston Texans—but people are still trying to figure out the Ravens.
That’s because the Ravens' three losses have all come against teams with losing records immediately following a big win over a quality opponent. It would be easy to understand one letdown game, but to lose three games in the same manner draws attention.
The most interesting part of this whole trend is that the Ravens should actually be undefeated. That sounds silly to say at this point, but it's the bottom line here.
The fact is, the Ravens have beaten several quality opponents this season, and each win they’ve had has obviously been legitimate. Therefore, the assumption he Ravens should have beaten the losing teams on their schedule basically infers the Ravens should technically be undefeated.
Obviously, no one is going to say they expect the Ravens to be undefeated because that is unreasonable, but people will point to the losses and say good teams don’t lose to bad teams. In many ways, they would be right, and the Ravens' inconsistency trend doesn’t look good no matter how you look at it.
On the other hand, a loss is a loss in the NFL. The Ravens are 8-3 after losing to losing teams and the Steelers are 8-3 after losing to winning teams. Which record is better? The fact is that they are both equivalent in the standings, but, ironically enough, it seems most fans and analysts downgrade the Ravens more for beating the good teams and losing to bad teams than they do the Steelers, or any other team, for beating the bad teams and losing to good teams.
The argument could certainly be made that losses to bad teams are better than losses to good teams because of the tie-breakers. That is the case with the Ravens and the Steelers this year since the Ravens hold the tie-breaker, but most people still have a hard time accepting that argument.
That’s because no one knows what to expect from the Ravens from week to week. Inconsistency may be the most unforgivable sin for a football team. That’s why people doubt the Ravens more than any other winning team despite the impressive wins.
Most other winning teams beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat and struggle against the teams they’re supposed to struggle against. It was predictable the Steelers lost to the Ravens and the Texans, the two teams with the most sacks this season, because of their offensive line struggles. It was also predictable they won—even in close games—against the bad teams, like Indianapolis and Kansas City.
The Ravens definitely have not been predictable this season. The only thing that seems to be predictable is the fact that they will lose to a bad team following a big win over a good team, but even that is disputable.
As much as we like to analyze—and over-analyze—the Ravens and this specific trend, the fact is every loss the Ravens have had stands by itself. Sure, there are some trends and similarities, like the offensive struggles, but each loss was different and the Ravens approached each game differently with a different game plan.
Many fans and analysts like to simplify the Ravens' problems down to one factor or reason as if simply firing or benching someone would solve all of the problems, but that just isn’t logical. These types of inconsistency issues in football are typically the characteristic of a team that is still trying to figure itself out, and that is exactly what is going on with the Ravens.
The Ravens are still a very young team—especially on offense—and that may be the most overlooked fact about the Ravens this season. The Ravens are still growing, developing and evolving as a team. They are trying to improve for the future while winning in the present, and although that strategy has been successful for the most part, there have been growing pains.
The good news for Ravens fans is that the team seems to be coming together over the last few weeks. The offense has evolved into a more effective and efficient unit and seems to have discovered its strengths, but before everyone gets too excited, we need to remember the process that brought the Ravens to this point. The struggles and inconsistencies they’ve encountered and overcome in themselves are what have made them a better team.
Obviously, football is all about winning games. The Ravens will always go into each game doing everything they can to win it, but the problems that they face aren’t always a bad thing. The struggles that they overcome make them a stronger by exposing their weaknesses. That’s the nature of improvement in football.
That being said, the Ravens will need to play up to their potential if they’re going to win a championship this season. The time for improving and discovering themselves is during the regular season, which is coming to an end, because once they reach the playoffs, every week is a one game season and any inconsistency at that point would send them home.
A win against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday would go a long way to showing everyone that they've at least moved past the inconsistency issues that they struggled with this season and would break their trend of losing to losing teams after a big win.