The Baltimore Ravens have been a hard team to follow and figure out this season. One minute, you think you’re looking at the best team in the AFC and the next you’re not sure if the team could even make the playoffs. To say that they’ve been inconsistent would be an understatement.
That’s a theme and topic most Ravens fans have read about and heard about over and over again this season. The good news is the Ravens seem to have resolved many of the inconsistency issues, but many fans and analysts would tell you a real Super Bowl contender would be more polished and wouldn’t struggle like the Ravens have this season.
That may or may not be true since anything can happen in the NFL, but look at some of the Super Bowl winners from recent history. Just last season, not many people would have picked the Green Bay Packers, who started the season 3-3 and lost three of their last six games. They even lost to the 3-10 Detroit Lions, who were without Matthew Stafford, finished 10-6 and didn’t even win their own division. That doesn’t really sound like a Super Bowl team, but they were.
The same thing can be said of the 2007 New York Giants. The 2007 season was all about the New England Patriots and their perfect season. The Patriots were clearly the best team in the league and finished the season with a 16-0 record. The Giants, on the other hand, started the season 0-2 and lost four out of their last eight games—including their last game of the season to the Patriots.
Both of these teams, the 2010 Green Bay Packers and the 2007 New York Giants, went to the Super Bowl and won it despite all of their in-season issues, and the key factor to both of their Super Bowl runs is that they started to get hot at the right time.
That’s ultimately what it takes to win a Super Bowl. The regular season doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whom you’ve beaten, whom you’ve lost to, how well you’ve played or even how poorly. The only thing that matters once you make the playoffs is winning now, and teams that get hot late in the season are the teams with the clear advantage.
Another often overlooked factor is the pass rush. Almost every team that has won the Super Bowl in recent history has had a great pass rush. The Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Giants were all in the top two or better in sacks for their defense. Even the New Orleans Saints played an aggressive, opportunistic defense and had the third-most interceptions and most defensive touchdowns.
If an aggressive pass rush and an opportunistic defense is a sign of a Super Bowl team, the Ravens certainly look the part. They currently have a league-leading 41 sacks, which is six more than the next team, and have probably the most aggressive defense in the league right now.
Even more than that, the Ravens are just now starting to come together as a team. They seem to be trending upwards over the last couple of weeks, and there’s no question they haven’t reached their potential yet.
The Ravens' potential as a team right now is very high and impossible to gauge because they have so many young players that are blossoming all over the team, and this is another sign of a Super Bowl team. Almost every Super Bowl-winning team in recent history has had a high level of production from its rookie class and young players. The Packers had players like Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji last season, and the Giants had players like Aaron Ross, Justin Tuck—who was a third-year player at that time—and Mathias Kiwanuka in 2007. Furthermore, Eli Manning was in his fourth year and still trying to prove himself to a league that had been very critical of his progress.
Who else does that sound like?
The Ravens may have some of the most productive young players in the league right now. Players like Lardarius Webb, who is having an All-Pro-type season, Pernell McPhee, who may be the Ravens' most impressive rookie in recent history, Paul Kruger, who has finally had a breakout season, and Torrey Smith are giving the Ravens more production than they could have ever hoped for. Obviously, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are still young players trying to take the offense to the next level.
Speaking of the offense, the Ravens have received the most criticism this year on that side of the ball, but the offense isn’t what powers the Ravens. The Ravens are fueled almost completely by their defense, and that’s why the Ravens struggles this season have been so frustrating for Ravens fans.
When the team was struggling on offense, it was like it was trying to be a something it wasn't by attempting to turn itself into a passing, quick-score-type offense. Being versatile is great and is essential in some games, but the Ravens were getting away from winning football. Manning showed in 2007 that you can win a Super Bowl by managing an offense behind a strong running game and relying on a great, aggressive defense.
Now that the Ravens have gotten back to running the football, the team has really started to show how good it can be. The offense has stayed on the field, burned the clock and allowed the defense to pressure the opposing offense. When the Ravens play like that, they are nearly impossible to beat with the personnel that they have now—especially when they are getting the level of play that they are from their young talent.
The only question remaining is how high the Ravens' ceiling is this season. Fans and analysts have been talking for years about the Ravens' potential and how their window is closing. The window might be closing for some of the older players on the team like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but with the young talent that the Ravens have right now, they will be competitive for years to come.
That being said, this may be the most complete team that the Ravens have ever fielded, and with their seemingly perfect balance of productive veterans and young, emerging talent, the time to make a run at the Super Bowl is now.