The Ravens are reminiscent of two modern-era NFL teams—the 1970s Rams and 1990s Steelers—in that they showed remarkable consistency over a period of years, finishing with records among the best in the league during the regular season.
However, come playoff time, the shortcomings of the two teams (most specifically lacking a franchise QB) led to playoff disappointments. However, both the Rams and Steelers of the era finally did break through and win a conference championship, although they lost the Super Bowl (albeit to dynasty-level teams in competitive games).
The Ravens have been knocking on the door for years and seem well positioned to finally follow in the steps of the 1979 Rams and 1995 Steelers to win the conference championship.
Why the Ravens Should Win the AFC
The 2011 Ravens finally overcame the hump of the Steelers, sweeping them in the season series for the first time since 2006. The inability to overcome Pittsburgh has forced the Ravens into Wild Card games and playing on the road in the playoffs.
With the tie-breaker in hand and a schedule almost as (statistically) easy as the Patriots, the Ravens are in control of their destiny to finally earn a top seed and a bye week. The Ravens have a great mix of playoff experience, veteran leadership (the only team in the league featuring two “sure-fire” first ballot Hall of Fame players— Ed Reed and Ray Lewis), overall talent and a genuine hunger. There is something to be said for a team that has tasted postseason success over several years but has fallen short and has extra desire to win a championship.
Why the Ravens Will Not Win the AFC
The Ravens' most potent offensive weapon is running back Ray Rice. They have a team that would be more ideally designed if it were 2001-2005, the pre-Goodell era league. In particular, since 2007 only two Super Bowl participants have featured a running back with over 1,000 yards and only one (2009 Saints—No. 6) finished with a Top 10-ranked rushing game.
While the Ravens' statistical offensive balance at a glance would seem to indicate they are not as reliant on the running game as they are the passing game (No. 15 in passing, No. 27 in rushing), a closer look at their games reveals that in games where Ray Rice is prolific, the Ravens do well, and in games in which he has been held in check, the Ravens have been vulnerable and needed late defensive breakdowns by their opponents to win.
Joe Flacco is a solid QB, but unremarkable and inconsistent. He does not do anything particularly “special” and that is a problem in a league that is pass-heavy—Flacco is going to have to raise the level of his game and do so in the extreme pressure of the NFL playoffs.
Despite his 4-3 playoff record, Flacco’s actual playoff performance has been far from stellar—where by comparison the Ravens' top AFC competition features QBs who by the same points early in their careers, turned in some spectacular playoff performances and won a Super Bowl, but have repeated the experience to the tune of seven total appearances and five Super Bowl wins among them.