Allegany Communications Sports

It is beyond the eye test at this point given the way the Baltimore Ravens just flattened the Miami Dolphins on Sunday — 56-19 — as to where the current best team in professional football resides.

It resides in Bawlmer, hon — it’s ’dem Ravens.

Consider, the Dolphins team the Ravens just hammered came to Baltimore with a record of 11-4 as the No. 2 team in the overall AFC playoff standings. Consider, with the 37-point win over the Dolphins, the Ravens now have eight wins by 14-plus points this season, all against opponents currently above .500, including the NFC top seed San Francisco 49ers.

No other team in NFL history has had more than five regular-season wins by such a margin against teams that finished that season with a winning record.

And the Ravens didn’t just defeat the Dolphins, they completely overwhelmed the Dolphins, and they did it after the Dolphins had opened the game with a too-easy scoring drive that gave them a 7-0 lead.

The Ravens defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL, limited the damage to just a field goal on the next Miami possession, thanks to a dropped pass in the end zone by Tyreek Hill, and from that point it was lights out Miami.

Offensively, Baltimore scored seemingly at will, even after a dropped pass and a couple of penalties had put the offense in a hole. Witness Justice Hill converting a 3rd-and-16 off a dump-off from quarterback Lamar Jackson that led directly to the Ravens’ first touchdown.

How odd that former Ravens running back Ray Rice would be in the house on Sunday (for a couple of reasons), as Ravens fans were immediately taken back to Rice’s miraculous “Hey Diddle Diddle” conversion on a similar play of a 4th-and-29 in San Diego during Baltimore’s last Super Bowl season of 2012.

With the win, the Ravens clinched the top seed for the AFC playoffs — where they have been before, of course, but were unable to take advantage of it — but still have one game remaining in the regular season this Saturday when the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers come to town to clinch what had appeared to be an unthinkable playoff berth of their own.

The Steelers are suddenly a hot team, having finally found its offense the past two weeks under third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph; and their defense, while having had lapses in the secondary, remains one of the most difficult defenses to play in the NFL.

It has all the makings of one of the physically intense battles the Ravens and Steelers have made famous against each other through the years, with everything on the line. But, in truth, everything will be on the line only for the Steelers, as the Ravens are set to stay home for the playoffs for as long as they don’t implode as they did in 2020.

Truthfully, this Ravens team seems better equipped to handle the top seed than the 2019-20 team was because this defense is better, deeper and more talented, and is constantly adjusting to each game circumstance; whereas the 2019-20 Ravens defense was exposed right out of the gate by the Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry, and never adjusted.

Also, this version of the Ravens has a far better quarterback than that version of the Ravens did, even though the quarterback of both teams is the same person in Lamar Jackson, and who was the unanimous MVP of the league in 2019.

From his approach, to his understanding and skill, Lamar Jackson is now an elite quarterback though there are too many out there who don’t admit it because they won’t admit it. They just won’t do it for whatever reason, which we can guess, but the reason they use is his record in the playoffs, which, I give you, is not good. In fact, it’s pretty bad at 1-3 in three postseason appearances.

Ladies and gentlemen, I understand we’re talking about different eras, yet we’re still talking about the same perception of elite; thus, I give you Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.

There is no one who saw Fouts play quarterback for the San Diego Chargers who has not believed him to have been an elite quarterback, even though he barely had a winning quarterback record in the regular season. Fouts passed for over 43,000 career yards and for 254 touchdowns (also 242 interceptions), but his career QB record in the playoffs was 3-4.

Yet Fouts is elite and Lamar Jackson isn’t, even though Jackson’s teams win so much more than Fouts’ did, and even though Jackson does so many more things for his team that Fouts was incapable of doing for his (and that nobody else can do today either).

That said, until Jackson does all of these things and helps the Ravens win in the postseason, the perception others have of him as a football player is a moot point. In the meantime, what will he do this week in the regular-season finale? Will he even play in the regular-season finale?

The Steelers opened the week as a 3.5-point favorite, even though the game is in Baltimore, because the Ravens are expected to rest as many of their starters as possible, though head coach John Harbaugh said he has yet to determine how many and for how long.

This is understandable, of course, but at the same time, aside from the fact the Ravens don’t want to see the Steelers in an early-round playoff game, just for old times’ hate, wouldn’t the Ravens want to beat the Steelers just so they can be the one to officially knock them out of the playoffs?

Letting the starters go at this point? It’s risky business. But it is Ravens-Steelers.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT