"If the Baltimore Ravens had a quarterback approaching anywhere near the middle of the pack, they could be an elite team."
That is a quote echoed throughout Baltimore ever since the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996. During the 21st century, the Ravens had found some success, reaching the postseason five out of the nine years thus far, including one Superbowl Championship. However, that success solely hinged upon their defense.
The defense's high accolades were initially credited to their former Defensive Coordinator, Marvin Lewis. However, Lewis was offered the head coaching job at Cincinnati, and has only taken them to the postseason once. Then, Rex Ryan took over, and the Baltimore defense continued there dominating ways. The lone exception was during the 2005 campaign when both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed missed significant time due to injuries. However, upon their return in 2006, the Ravens amassed a 13-3 season, only to fall to the elusive (and eventual Superbowl Champion) Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs.
Rex Ryan continued to confuse opposing offenses throughout his tenure as Defensive Coordinator. The lone blemish on his record was an ill-advised time-out call against the New England Patriots in 2007. A call that if had not been made, would have resulted in the Patriots failing to convert a fourth down play late in the game, thus hanging the first loss on the Patriots season. However, it was not meant to be, as the Patriots took advantage of the call, and won the game, thus continuing their perfect regular season at 16-0.
The Patriots that year, dominated the game on both sides of the ball. Not only were they a high-octane offense, able to score at any moment, but their defense shut down everyone. Some will argue that their offense was their best defense. Nonetheless, they kept the formula simple, score a touchdown with every redzone possession.
This season, the Ravens have adopted a similar formula. However, they are now able to do so with confidence. Thanks mostly to second year quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco as earned the respect, and most importantly, the trust of his teammates, coaches, and fans alike. Flacco is ranked 5th among all NFL quarterbacks in terms of rating. Couple that with an explosive defense, and Baltimore is beginning to poise itself as the team to beat in the NFL.
The defense, despite losing their Defensive Coordinator again to another team's head coaching vacancy, has revealed that their success is mostly attributed to the players, and their passion to play. In addition to losing defensive coordinators over the years, the team has also lost key players on defense (Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott). However, they maintained the nucleus - Lewis and Reed. Together, they make all of the players around them that much better.
So when the 3-0 Baltimore Ravens stroll into Foxborough to square off with the 2-1 New England Patriots, do not expect to see the Patriots trash all over them as Tom Brady has come accustomed to at home. This game features two teams that play well fundamentally, and have a desire to not only win, but to crush their opponents. The Ravens are firing on all cylinders while the Patriots are struggling to find consistency. The Patriots could very easily be 1-2 at this point, but luck seems to be on their side. Facing the Ravens stout "bend-but-don't-break" defense will require more than luck.
Tom Brady and his offense have not looked in sync for much of this season thus far, and expect the lack of cohesiveness to continue without Wes Welker, and even more so against the punishing Ravens defense. However, Brady and company know how to make big plays, and they know when to make them count. This will be Baltimore's biggest test, should they succeed, expect Ravens fans to start making Superbowl plans.
Final score prediction, Baltimore 24 - New England 19.