The Baltimore Ravens may have been the division winners of the AFC North in 2018, but they may be the least-talked about team in the division this offseason, or at least the second-least behind the Cincinnati Bengals. But at least the Bengals have a new head coach who’s making changes.
The only changes the Ravens have made have largely consisted of losing free agents, though they did add Earl Thomas to the secondary to replace Eric Weddle, and signed Mark Ingram to pair with Gus Edwards as they turn their focus to the running game behind Lamar Jackson.
But it has been the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers generating all the headlines, the former generally positive and the latter generally negative. Even with the negative attention, however, the Steelers remain a popular choice to return to their previous level of success, which is, at a minimum, a playoff appearance.
Las Vegas has the Baker Mayfield-led Browns as the early betting favorite to win the division after they have made some major moves this offseason to bring in Odell Beckham, Jr., Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson.
Ravens safety Tony Jefferson isn’t impressed, likely remembering that it was his defense that kept Cleveland under .500 for the year in the finale, during which the Browns attempted to play spoiler. A loss would have meant that Baltimore was going to miss the playoffs.
“We’re still defending the title”, Jefferson said. “So until then, it’s just he say, she say, it’s Madden. Until then, you got to come strip the title from us. That’s just what it is”.
That’s not exactly how it works, of course. It’s not as though you have to beat the previous division champion in order to be the division champion yourself. This isn’t a boxing match where a title belt is on the line. You can lose twice to the previous division winner and still win the division.
But the point is made. This is a Ravens team that went 6-1 with Jackson at quarterback in the final seven games of the season, and truthfully, until a couple of teams manage to lay out the blueprint about how to stop them, they can’t be disregarded by any means.
“You can sleep if you want, but we’re going to be out there playing ball, and let the cards come out how they do”, the safety added. “We work a little harder, lift a little harder, run a little harder out there. So I’m excited”.
Meanwhile, you can be sure that the Steelers are thinking the same thing. They may not be able to boast the distinction of defending division champion—though they did win three of the last four prior to 2018—but they know the talent that they have and the on-field expectations set before them.