In the past few years of challenging friends and coworkers to “pick ’em” football bets, I’ve tried to be as conservative as possible, taking into consideration the football pundits’ projections and Vegas spread. However, one team has always stood out to me as the underdog, one that never got its due accolades.
In the past few years of challenging friends and coworkers to “pick ’em” football bets, I’ve tried to be as conservative as possible, taking into consideration the football pundits’ projections and Vegas spread. However, one team has always stood out to me as the underdog, one that never got its due accolades. The major sports outlets that discount them do so because it’s a team with an ugly exterior—a team that, on the surface, appears as though it will fall apart at any minute. Their accomplishments always seem to be overshadowed by teams rich with Super Bowl rings, but the Baltimore Ravens have shown this season that they are ready to take down the best in football and claim that ultimate prize.
One of the biggest detriments to Baltimore gaining the support of ESPN analysts and stat nerds is quarterback Joe Flacco. On paper, Flacco has never boasted the most impressive numbers. His completion percentage during the regular season and postseason averages out to about 56 percent, and his passing yards per game tends to dwindle down to the level of quarterbacks who are currently playing arena football. But in five seasons of directing the offense for the Ravens, he has led the team to the playoffs every single year. It’s a seeming contradiction that is more easily explained if you’ve seen Flacco in action—he’s the type of player who has a penchant for pulling off improbable Hail Mary plays after not being able to connect with his receivers for most of the game.
Of course, Flacco doesn’t just depend on his passing game to score. Three-time Pro Bowler Ray Rice is an explosive running back who completed almost a quarter of the total offensive touchdowns that the Ravens accumulated this season. And Flacco doesn’t always need to be completely accurate, anyway—not when wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin can be counted on to perform acrobatic diving catches while being hounded by man-to-man coverage. The Ravens’ run through the playoffs this year has been particularly remarkable: Flacco currently tops all quarterbacks in postseason passer rating, and Boldin has the highest number of total receiving yards. And let’s not forget about linebacker Ray Lewis, who is leading all players in the postseason in tackles by a wide margin, at 37.
Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowl participant, has said that this year will be his last before retiring from the game of football. He only got to play six games this year before a torn triceps caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. Lewis’ return against the Indianapolis Colts during last week’s wild card game could have been his swan song if Baltimore had fallen to the much-touted Andrew Luck-led Colts, but the Ravens persevered.
That ultimately seems to be the Ravens’ modus operandi—perseverance. Even with Vegas stacking the Ravens last in terms of odds to win the Super Bowl, I saw a glimmer of hope shine through big Ray’s eyes during last weekend’s postgame interview as he yelled, “Nobody gave us a shot—nobody!”
Lewis and the rest of the Ravens certainly have a shot now.