Kings of regular season, Ravens know challenge of pursuing bigger crown

Ryan Kang via AP Photo

BALTIMORE -- Toward the end of Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, some Baltimore Ravens players picked up the Gatorade cooler and moved within a few feet of dumping it onto coach John Harbaugh before cornerback Marcus Peters interceded with a message.

“This is not the time for that,” Peters told teammates on the sideline. “We have more to do.”

Sunday’s hammering of the Steelers put the finishing touches on one of the most dominating regular seasons in NFL history. The next challenge, however, is just beginning.

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (14-2) have to carry over that success into the postseason, which has been difficult for some of the best teams over the past two decades. Recent history shows these elite teams are just as apt to lose their first playoff game as they are to capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Since 1999, here’s how the 13 teams who won 14 or more games in the regular season fared in the postseason:

  • Four lost in divisional round

  • Two lost in the conference championship game

  • Four lost in the Super Bowl

  • Three won the Super Bowl (the Patriots in 2003, 2004 and 2016)

  • “We have to win the Super Bowl,” linebacker Matthew Judon said. "That’s how you become the best team in the NFL. It’s doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season, it only gets you to the postseason. We got there, so we’re halfway there. We have to finish it out.”

    As a No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history, the Ravens play host to an AFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 11 at 8:15 p.m. Baltimore will face the lowest-remaining seed, which will either be the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans.

    The Ravens are the favorites to win the Super Bowl because of Jackson’s historic season, a stingy defense and a remarkable season-ending run. Baltimore has a 35.5 percent chance of winning the title (the next closest is the Kansas City Chiefs at 22.1 percent) according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. At Caesars Sportsbook, the Ravens are 2-to-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl (the Chiefs are next at 3-1).

    The consensus third-best team in the AFC North in the preseason, the Ravens are now the NFL’s most complete team. Jackson led the league with 36 touchdown passes and finished No. 6 with 1,206 yards rushing (the most by a quarterback in a single season). During Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak, its defense has allowed the fewest yards (268.9) and points (15.1) per game.

    The most impressive part about Baltimore not losing since Sept. 29 is that the AFC North champions have five victories over playoff teams. The Ravens came back to win in Seattle, routed New England and Houston in primetime and pulled out hard-fought victories against San Francisco and Buffalo.

    In doing so, Baltimore recorded the seventh-best point differential (plus-249) in the NFL since 1966. Five of the six teams with the highest point differential reached the Super Bowl, but only three (1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins and 1999 Rams) hoisted up the Lombardi Trophy.

    “In the regular season, I think our record speaks for itself,” offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. "We played a lot of tough teams, went through a gauntlet. But at the end of the day, for those teams that are still standing, everybody is 0-0. We understand the circumstances and the task at hand.”

    The Ravens constantly talk about how they need to improve and haven't played their best football yet. Baltimore struggles to get pressure on the quarterback without blitzing, and the Ravens wide receivers have a habit of disappearing.

    Home-field advantage isn’t a given, either. The Ravens have the NFL’s second-best home record in the regular season since 2000 (117-42), but they are only 3-3 at M&T Bank Stadium in the postseason, including a 23-17 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last year.

    "This is what we grind for,” defensive back Brandon Carr said. "... Now it is more so trying to win each day and trying to get better. What wouldn’t you do to try and win the Super Bowl? That is where we are right now.”

    Few outside of Baltimore believed this is where the Ravens would be right now. The Ravens' odds to win the Super Bowl to open the season were 40-to-1, which tied for 16th in the league.

    Since then, Jackson became the first player to produce at least 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. Baltimore became the first team to average over 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. The Ravens broke the 41-year-old NFL single-season rushing record with 3,296 yards.

    During one of the first team meetings of training camp, Harbaugh told his players that they were going to be part of a revolution. After Sunday's win, Harbaugh said, "the revolution is here."

    "We’re not afraid to step out there and speak from the heart on those kinds of things [during the offseason], and we got laughed at quite a bit. That’s OK," Harbaugh said. "If they’re not laughing at you, your dreams aren’t big enough. We have big dreams, big goals, big ambitions and big faith -- and big truss."