Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an AFC North team who barely lost in the regular season was handed an early dismissal from the playoffs after underestimating their opponent. That is what the Pittsburgh Steelers were accused of in 2017 after getting knocked out by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now Lamar Jackson, the quarterback of the 14-2 Baltimore Ravens who won the top seed in the AFC last year, admitted that they, too, were caught peeking ahead of the Tennessee Titans, who beat them handily in a 28-12 victory in the Divisional Round in the 2019 season.
Appearing on the Load Management podcast, the third-year quarterback was asked about the team’s approach heading into the 2020 season, he said that the team’s goal right now is to simply win in the first game of the season and take it from there.
“We’re taking it one game at a time, not peeking ahead. That’s what happened in the playoffs and we end up losing to the team people had us favored over”, he said on the podcast. “It’s any given Sunday. You can’t underestimate no team, no opponent and that’s what we did. So I’m looking forward to this 2020 season playing the Browns first . . . Don’t underestimate your opponents. They caught us by surprise. That’s all it was”.
While it’s a somewhat damning admission to overlook your opponents, it also doubles as a defense mechanism of sorts, because you convince yourself that the only reason that you lost is because you didn’t take your task seriously enough. If you had only done what you were supposed to do, the correct outcome would have happened—you are still better than the opponent who defeated you.
Jackson said after that game that the Ravens beat themselves, but that’s a pretty common theme among teams who lose, and the Steelers have been no exception to that. He did have three turnovers in the game himself, after being among the best in the league in the regular season in protecting the ball.
Baltimore returns the majority of its talented roster from last season, without real major free agency losses, at least not that haven’t been replaced with pieces like Calais Campbell. They also had a draft class that looks very intriguing on paper.
There’s no reason to believe that they shouldn’t continue to be a very good team in 2020, unless Jackson regresses in his game, or the league simply catches up to their offensive strategy built around the run game. They produced nearly half of their record-setting rushing yards on read-option plays. Solve that and you cripple a huge part of their offense.