Is the 2021 season Super Bowl or bust for the Ravens?

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The Baltimore Ravens come into the 2021 season having high expectations. After adding even more playmakers to an elite offensive unit and having a defense that is always extremely solid, the team is expected to make a deep playoff run in 2021. However, does Baltimore have to make or even win the Super Bowl this year in order for the season to be considered a success?

There are many differing opinions on the matter, but the most important thing that the Ravens can show in 2021 is growth. Certainly, making or winning the big game shows that and also would mean that Baltimore achieved a goal they’ve been so adamant about for a long time. However, playoff growth for the Ravens would also mean making an AFC Championship game appearance.

If Baltimore were to make the AFC Championship game, it would mark the team’s first appearance in the third round since the 2012-2013 season, a year in which the Ravens won it all. The past few seasons have seen the team perform well in the regular season, but somewhat falter once the playoffs begin.

In 2018, after Baltimore fought hard to win the AFC North crown, the team was defeated at home by the Los Angeles Chargers in a game where the Ravens couldn’t get anything going until late, and actually almost staged a miraculous comeback. In 2019, the team had one of the best regular seasons in NFL history, going 14-2, but after a bye week during the Wild Card Round, the next week they got beaten soundly by the Tennessee Titans.

Most recently, in 2020 Baltimore got their revenge on Tennessee by beating them in the Wild Card Round, but then lost in disappointing fashion to the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round. Although many are upset that the Ravens haven’t been able to advance past the second round in each of the last three years, there is optimism, as there was growth shown over those seasons.

When looking at it, Baltimore has gone from a Wild Card Round loss to a Divisional Round loss to winning a playoff game and then losing in the Divisional Round. Each year they’ve taken another step towards a Super Bowl Championship. However, a key for the team is for them to not become complacent with that growth and suddenly start regressing from a playoff perspective.

Another key point that people look at when debating if 2021 is Super Bowl or bust for Baltimore is the contract situation of quarterback Lamar Jackson and others as well. This is most likely the last year of extreme cap flexibility for a while, as Jackson’s fifth-year option will cost the team just over $23 million next year, and the Ravens will also have to start looking into deals for players such as Mark Andrews, Bradley Bozeman, and DeShon Elliott.

Since Baltimore will probably have to pay Jackson and a couple of others big-money deals, along with already having players like Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey on huge contracts, in future years the team won’t be able to sign as many veterans as they might like to, and even could have to let some of their own promising young players walk because they simply won’t have enough to pay them. That will have the Ravens relying on young talent on rookie deals or veterans on cheap contracts a bit more than big outside signings, so some view this upcoming season as the last year of having an extremely deep roster at multiple positions.

Baltimore has a ton of roster depth and a well-balanced roster full of both young players and veterans. They are prime contenders for a Super Bowl in 2021, but so are many other teams, both in their own conference and throughout the rest of the NFL. As the great Ray Lewis said, there can only be one champion crowned at the end of each year, and the Ravens have a good chance to be that team. However, if it isn’t them, they’ll have plenty more years to compete with a core of Jackson (pending his extension), Stanley, Humphrey and others.

Despite there being a valid case for 2021 being a Super Bowl or bust year, Baltimore has enough young talent to stay competitive for many years to come. However, growth is extremely important, so even if the year doesn’t end in a Super Bowl for the Ravens, a realistic expectation to consider the 2021 season a success is for them to at least make it to the AFC Championship. Going at least that far would prove that the team is still growing and is on the right track. A Super Bowl contender is rarely built in a year, and it looks promising that what Baltimore has done over the past few years to put together a Super Bowl team will yield great results over the next handful of seasons.