With the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers all proud owners of 10 victories this NFL season, listening to the so-called experts discuss which team is best, and will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI, can be dizzying, comical, and downright mind numbing, all at the same time.
The question will ultimately be answered on January-22 when the AFC determines it conference champion. It's even possible that team isn't even mentioned above. How many were screaming Green Bay’s name last year at this time as a pick to win the Super Bowl.
The Packers were not even a playoff team at this point during the season last year, as the New York Giants had not yet completed their annual November/December plunge into the Jersey River.
For those of you that cannot wait until late January, and need to know now, it's not that big of a debate if you have been watching all four teams closely these past few weeks. In fact, the answer is pretty clear that the Baltimore Ravens are the best team in the American Football Conference.
Many say the Ravens just do not possess the intangibles to win the AFC. I say the Ravens are just starting to heat up as the weather turns cold. The Ravens offense cannot get it done when it matters, you say. I ask, does the last four weeks matter in terms of getting it done when it counts.
The Ravens have won four in a row during what is considered crunch time in the NFL, and since November 4- Baltimore has allowed the NFL’s fewest sacks (4), tying New Orleans. Currently they have the best sack differential in the league, and lead the the NFL with 45 sacks. While that stat may not surprise you, their offensive line, which was much maligned to start the season, has allowed just 24 sacks of their own through 13 games. In fact the Ravens have not allowed a sack during the first quarter all season.
They have done all of this without certain Hall of Fame middle linebacker, and team leader, Ray Lewis. However, Lewis is set to return in San Diego on Sunday night.
These numbers are in stark contrast to last season, when Baltimore only recorded a franchise low 27 sacks on defense, while Flacco went down 42 times on offense. The Ravens are plus-21 this year, which is four better than the second place Dream Teamers from Philadelphia.
Running back Ray Rice’s 470 rushing yards rank first in the NFL, and Baltimore’s 633 rushing yards rank second only to Carolina’s 658. Most of the offense's success has come from the Ravens rushing attack, but Joe Flacco has led Baltimore to a 45.9% success rate on third down, which ranks second in the NFL(New Orleans, 55%).
Finally, the Ravens have scored 8 TDs in 12 red zone trips, a 67 percent success rate.
Head coach John Harbaugh and his team have their fair share of issues, but they really--really pale in comparison to those in New England, Houston, and the Steele City. In a fickle week-to-week league like the NFL, a lot can change.
Injuries, strength of schedule, team chemistry, and whether or not player potentials’ have been realized throughout the season, are four key ingredients to any team’s success this time of year. The Ravens are the standard by which all teams should strive to be this time of year during the regular season.
Since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, no team in the NFL has posted a better record in November, December, and early January during the regular season than Baltimore. The Ravens are 25-9 during the down and dirty time, as it finally appears this is the year they carry that success into late January, and into the first Sunday of February.
Baltimore is the poised team this season. They are the only team in the NFL to win at least one playoff game during the past three seasons, and have done it all away from Charm City. Baltimore has played seven road playoff games under John Harbaugh, wining four of them.
Even if the Ravens should stumble in San Diego Sunday night, or at the end of the year in Cincinnati, costing them the division , or a No. 1, or 2 seed, getting to this year's big game will just be a little tougher, but still a real likelihood.
If the Ravens win out, they are the No.1 seed in the AFC. The irony would be great, as the road to Indianapolis, where another team originally from Baltimore currently plays, will go through M&T Bank Stadium. Fans will get rub the bronze toe of the Johnny Unitas statue, and then it really won’t matter who comes to play.
If you think the Ravens are pretty good on the road in the playoffs, they could be as close to a sure thing at home. Since the 2000 season, the Baltimore Ravens win almost 76 percent of the time there. With a 72-23 home record during that span, only the Patriots were better at home in the NFL.
During the Harbaugh era when the Ravens play at home they have compiled a 26-5 record. They have also swiped 48 interceptions, allowed just 13.4 points per game, outscored their opponents by 385 points (797-412), and have held opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 61.4 QB rating.
The Ravens four playoff losses over the past five seasons have come at the hands of two Super Bowl Champions (06 Colts-08 Steelers), and two AFC Champions 2010 Steelers, 2009 Colts).
This team is ready, and not only do the stats prove it, but Baltimore has performed much better against common opponents in recent weeks, and seem to possess all of the intangibles necessary tobe "that team" this year.
If all of these stats aren't proof enough that Baltimore is indeed the best in the AFC, here is a breakdown of how the Ravens would fare versus the Steelers, Pats, and Texans.