Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
What about fool me 47 times? Who’s the one with the shame after the 47th fooling? That’s my question surrounding Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens this week. They lost to the Bills in Buffalo in Week 4, and everyone jumped off the lightly attended bandwagon. Flacco threw five interceptions in the loss, and the running game was abandoned in the fourth quarter. Based on the media reaction, you’d think Flacco and John Harbaugh were Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in “Gravity” — floating around, lost in space.
(Full disclosure: I have not seen this movie, but I assume Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around, lost in space, in the film. They have to, right? In 3-D, no less. I am scared of space and have no plans to see this movie. I am also scared of Sandra Bullock. Moving right along …)
That was it for the Ravens, right? They were 2-2 after four weeks and essentially done.
Naturally, Flacco never wavered. The defense — which has been quietly outstanding this year since the Week 1 loss in Denver — got going, and the Ravens won seven days later in Miami. That crowd, say multiple sources who were in attendance, was more or less a Ravens home game. The Baltimore fan contingent either traveled or got off their Boca Raton couches to see their beloved team. The Ravens fans, unlike the rest of the country, didn’t bail on their team after the loss to the Bills.
How many times do the Ravens have to do this before we stop giving up on them? Last year, they lost Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury in the offseason, dropped three games in the middle of the season for the first time since Harbaugh took over as head coach, dumped their longtime offensive coordinator, and switched up their offensive line right before the playoffs. After every one of those instances, football fans and pundits alike jumped ship.
The Ravens respond best when their backs are against the wall.
Down 35-28 with less than a minute left in Denver in last year’s AFC Divisional Playoffs, Flacco hit Jacoby Jones on the play that changed both players’ lives forever. This offseason, they lost Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. The reaction to the Boldin trade — carrying right over to Week 1 when he had more than 200 yards in the 49ers’ win over the Packers — was universal. Joe Flacco got $120 million? Ozzie Newsome had lost his marbles.
Over the summer, I looked long and hard and couldn’t find a single media outlet that picked the Ravens to defend their Super Bowl title this season. That includes me, who took the mighty Houston Texans to get over the hump and win the conference.
At 3-2 and up against the 2-2 Green Bay Packers this weekend, the Ravens are three-point underdogs at home. Yep, the defending champions, with a winning record and just one loss at home in the past three years, are three-point dogs. Maybe Vegas knows something I don’t. Maybe Vegas has seen “Gravity”.
This is how the Ravens like it, though. Talk to Harbaugh and he’ll give you a wry smile. Get a hold of Flacco and he’ll shrug it off. The man who won’t even acknowledge the doubts around his team, though, is No. 55.
The best player on the Ravens this year is also my current pick for Defensive Player of the Year. One year removed from the Achilles injury and now the undisputed leader of the unit, Suggs is having as good a season as he’s ever had in his 10-year Baltimore career. That includes his 2011 Defensive Player of the Year season.
Known as “Sizzle” and nothing else in that Ravens locker room, Suggs has picked up the leadership role that Lewis and Reed left behind and has been a beast on the field. J.J. Watt has the blood-covered face and the headlines and Justin Houston has all the sacks, but Suggs’ work in both the run and pass game has been second to none this season. Two weeks ago, Suggs had a career-high 17 tackles against Buffalo. In last Sunday’s win at Miami, he was the leading force in limiting the Dolphins to 22 yards rushing.
“He’s a complete player. He always has been,” Harbaugh said this week. “That’s the great thing about Terrell Suggs. He’s not just a one-dimensional guy, in terms of pass rush. He’s a great pass rusher, but he’s all the other things, too. That’s what makes him a premier player.”
No one’s talking about the Ravens. No one seems to be considering Suggs for that DPOY award just yet. No one’s picking the Ravens over the Packers on Sunday.
I’m in for all three.
I’ve learned my lesson about doubting this team. Forty-seven times.
CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Packers do-everything WR Randall Cobb is one of two players in NFL history with a 60-yard run, a 60-yard reception, a 100-yard kick return and an 80-yard punt return in his first three seasons as a pro. Who is the other player? Answer below.
Now, on to the picks.
Week 5 record: 8-6
Overall record: 43-34
New York Giants (0-5) at Chicago (3-2): What happens when an ailing offensive line faces an ailing defensive line? That’s what we’ve got Thursday night in a game in which the Bears are down to their fourth and fifth defensive tackles and the Giants’ offensive line looks more like the “Little Giants” than the unit that protected Eli Manning the past nine years. Cutler to Marshall. Cutler to Jeffery. And Cutler to Eli’s old battery mate, Martellus Bennett. Give me Chicago.
The pick: Bears 27, Giants 23
MetLife Update: The Bears won 27-21.
SUNDAY, 1 P.M. ET
Cincinnati (3-2) at Buffalo (2-3): The Thad Lewis Era! Oh. Let’s lose the exclamation mark there. The Thad Lewis Era. Home or away, the Bengals defense won’t lose to Thad Lewis.
The pick: Bengals 23, Bills 14
Detroit (3-2) at Cleveland (3-2): Though he has his skeptics, QB Brandon Weeden showed me a little something with the way he bounced back from being benched and then being booed, and leading the Browns to a victory last week. The Lions were humbled in Green Bay last week and the impact WR Calvin Johnson makes on that offense was evident. I’m tempted to ride this Browns wave, especially at home, but I think Detroit finds a way.
The pick: Lions 24, Browns 21
Oakland (2-3) at Kansas City (5-0): How about the Raiders? Through five weeks, they have more wins than the Redskins, Giants and Steelers combined. They’ve got some exciting young performers out there too. D.J. Hayden got the game-sealing interception last weekend, but I love the receiver corps of Jacoby Ford, Rod Streeter, Denarius Moore and my dude Bryce Butler, as well. Fun team. Are they beating the Chiefs in Kansas City? Gosh, no. But they’re on the right path.
The pick: Chiefs 24, Raiders 20
Carolina (1-3) at Minnesota(1-3): Brothers Ryan and Matt Kalil are facing off in this one, and their sister apparently is singing the national anthem. You can have your Peyton, Eli and Cooper. This is what it’s all about. As for the game, I’m going with Ryan’s Carolina and its criminally underrated front seven.
The pick: Panthers 23, Vikings 16
Pittsburgh (0-4) at New York Jets (3-2): I spoke to a few Jets players this week and there’s just a different vibe in that locker room than there was last year. Winning will do that, I suppose. So will adding a bad man like Willie Colon. The former Steelers guard was quietly the best addition to the Jets not named Geno Smith this offseason. The Jets fans are all in on this team and, after two road games, will be ready to welcome them with a win.
The pick: Jets 24, Steelers 21
Philadelphia (2-3) at Tampa Bay (0-4): The Bucs need this one as much as any team needs a win this weekend. The Tampa D, lost in all the Josh Freeman nuttiness the past few weeks, has been excellent. Coming off a bye and in desperation mode, give me Greg Schiano over the man who turned down the Bucs job a year earlier. Don’t kid yourselves — Chip Kelly leaving Tampa ownership at the altar two years ago was not exactly viewed favorably within those walls.
The pick: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 23
Green Bay (2-2) at Baltimore(3-2): Vonta Leach pranked Ray Rice and put Icy Hot in his helmet before practice on Thursday. Alex Marvez did this to my headset last week and I cried. Rice laughed about it. That’s all you need to know about this Ravens team, folks. Loose and they don’t cry over Icy Hot in their helmets. I’m done doubting them. You can, though. Go right ahead.
The pick: Ravens 31, Packers 20
St. Louis (2-3) at Houston(2-3): I spoke with Matt Schaub at length after his three-interception effort in San Francisco on Sunday. The thing people don’t realize about Schaub is that in addition to being merely the quarterback, he’s also the lifeblood of the franchise. He’s the guy who leads the team in their offseason training, he’s the guy who shows up to the facility first, and he’s the guy the other players feed off of. He needs to get well soon. If he doesn’t, this season in Houston is essentially done. If I’m the Texans fans, I’d cheer for their quarterback on Sunday — not accost him at his home.
The pick: Texans 28, Rams 24
SUNDAY, 4:05 P.M. ET
Jacksonville (0-5) at Denver(5-0): As much as I like going against the grain and see amazing potential in being the “I was the one guy in the media who said …” dude, there’s just no way I can with this one. So I’ll shift it. The Jaguars will beat the spread! Look, I said it! That was me!
The pick: Broncos 35, Jaguars 7
Tennessee (3-2) at Seattle (4-1): No one’s winning at Century Link this season. Not the Titans, not the ’85 Bears, not the ’66 Packers. Nobody. Joel Klatt, the well-coiffed host of “FOX Football Daily”, calls the stadium the “CLINK.” I like that.
The pick: Seahawks 27, Titans 14
SUNDAY, 4:25 P.M. ET
Arizona (3-2) at San Francisco(3-2): The Cardinals are the sneakiest 3-2 team in NFL history. If this game was in the desert, I’d be tempted to take them over the 49ers. It’s not. This one’s got defensive slugfest written all over it.
The pick: 49ers 17, Cardinals 14
New Orleans (5-0) at New England(4-1): What to make of the Patriots? They won their first four games and everyone was singing their praises after the win in Atlanta, but who’d they beat? A Bills team with a rookie QB making his first start, a Jets team with a rookie QB making his first road start, the Buccaneers in the midst of Josh Freeman-gate, and a Falcons team that dropped one to the Jets the following week. I’ve never been less “sold” on a 4-1 team in NFL history. Give me the Saints in one of those “statement” games everyone loves.
The pick: Saints 31, Patriots 27
Washington (1-3) at Dallas (2-3): RG3 won both times he played the Cowboys last season. I see him going 3-0 after this one. Monte Kiffin couldn’t stop the read-option at USC and he won’t be able to stop the read-option on Sunday. The Dallas D looks awfully bad of late, and I don’t see it suddenly getting better this weekend. Hysteria time in Dallas on Monday. What’s new?
The pick: Redskins 34, Cowboys 23
Indianapolis (4-1) at San Diego (2-3): The Pagano Bowl! Chuck Pagano goes up against his little brother, Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano. The Colts have now beaten both the 49ers and Seahawks. Can they go into San Diego and win one under the lights? Why not?
The pick: Colts 27, Chargers 23
CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: Gale Sayers and Randall Cobb are the only two players in NFL history with a 60-yard run, a 60-yard reception, a 100-yard kick return and an 80-yard punt return in their first three seasons as pros.