By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens have a reputation for being dominant in the season opener of the season. The Baltimore Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns 38-6 to start the 2020 season. They crushed the Dolphins 59-10 in 2019, the season Lamar Jackson won the NFL MVP and the Ravens went 14-2. The year before that Baltimore had fun in the rain, beating the Buffalo Bills 47-3.
This year Baltimore travels to take on the Las Vegas Raiders in week 1. It’s a game the Ravens are the favorites in, even on the road. The Vegas Raiders are a complete question mark coming into the 2021 season. They crumbled in the hunt for the wild card spot last season. Jon Gruden had an up and down season and his roster arguably has as many questions as it did a season ago.
The Ravens, who are looking for their fourth straight trip to the playoffs, and have their eyes set on a third division title in four years, have a chance to make a statement on Monday Night Football. On top of the success that John Harbaugh has had in season openers, Lamar Jackson is known for big games in prime time.
Other than a debacle against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, Jackson has shown up big in primetime regular-season games. In 2019, Jackson put up five touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams in a 45-6 victory on the road. He also took down the New England Patriots and had another five touchdowns against the New York Jets. Last year, Jackson had the epic return in the Ravens 47-42 win against the Browns.
The bad news for the Raiders is that this is a spot where the Ravens are supposed to win, in a season opener, where Lamar Jackson gets a chance to show off in prime time. To make things worse for the Raiders, the Ravens have made cruising past teams they should beat a staple of the Jackson-era teams. Gone are the days where the Ravens play down to the level of their competition. For the most part since 2019, the Ravens have not just beaten, but crushed lesser opponents.
It remains to be seen whether the Raiders are indeed a lesser opponent. It’s a new year with a new optimism in the new “Black Hole.” Derek Carr having another strong season is a strong possibility. Statistically, Carr had his best season with just over 4,100 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions in 2020. Even with these numbers, the Raiders went just 8-8.
The Raiders had the 24th best run defense in the NFL last season. That’s obviously a concern for the Raiders against the Ravens. Even without J.K. Dobbins, the Ravens are expected to be one of the best teams running the football.
Many pundits have predicted a slower start for the Ravens on offense because of the injuries and lack of preseason playing time. It does make sense that the Ravens may need time to gel together, though this is an opener where Greg Roman can probably stay in his play-calling happy place. A Lamar Jackson showcase and a strong dose of the run game seem highly likely.
Carr has made the Ravens pay before. In 2016, Carr came to Baltimore with a four-touchdown performance to beat the Ravens 28-27. The Ravens however have had the Raiders’ number over the years. In 2017, the Ravens beat the Raiders 30-17. In 2018, the Ravens won the bout with the Raiders to the tune of a 34-17 score. Baltimore leads the all-time series nine games to three.
While we’re on the subject of the history between these teams it’s good if you’re a Ravens fan. The Ravens’ first game was 25 years ago and it was a 19-14 win over the Raiders. Baltimore beat the Oakland Raiders 16-3 in the 2000 AFC Championship game on the way to Super Bowl XXXV. In the 2012 season, the Ravens scorched the Raiders 55-20.
The Ravens have some things going for them in the season opener. They’re typically good to start the season. They’re typically good when Jackson has a chance to show off under the lights in a regular-season game, and they typically beat up the Raiders. When you add in the matchup problems the Ravens pose for the Raiders, you have to feel confident betting on the Ravens in week 1.