When fans and analyst refer to the NFL’s “parity,” they are usually talking about a balance of competition among the league’s 32 teams. One of the things I appreciate about the NFL so much is actually its parity in the most basic sense. 32 divided by two, divided by four, divided by four – a perfect equation for a mathematically balanced grouping of teams. With this harmonious balance, you begin to see patterns develop. The divisions, while different in the details, fall into similar dynamics. Each one is kind of a bizarro version of the next, like on “Seinfeld” when Elaine found the other group of guys to hang out with. So, who are the Ravens’ “Feldman” in the other divisions?
If you did not see this coming, my congratulations on being rescued from that mine you’ve been trapped in the last three seasons. The New York Jets might be the Ravens North. If you ask a Jets fan, they will tell you that the Ravens are the Jets’ weird cousin. Either way you choose to view their relationship, the teams’ trajectories have been intertwined since Rex Ryan assumed the head coaching duties in Jersey in 2009. Aside from the former Ravens that Ryan has chosen to employ (Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Derrick Mason, etc.), the Jets and the Ravens both operate with the same basic moving parts. You have the star-studded defense that both teams are famous for, but the offenses have more in common than you’d think. Flacco and Sanchez are at similar developmental points in their quarterbacking careers, and both squads rely on a one-two punch of young and veteran running backs. Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer comes from the same coaching tree as Ravens playcaller Cam Cameron, who coached under his father Marty. The working parts are obviously comparable, but these two teams also have a very similar relationships with their rivals. Until they put them in the ground convincingly and repeatedly, the Jets will perpetually be looking up to New England as Baltimore will be to Pittsburgh. There is no more fitting team you will find as Baltimore’s counterpart within another division.
Since departing the Ravens after coaching the linebackers from 1999-2001, Jack Del Rio has done a nice job of creating a less successful little version of Baltimore down in J-Ville. If there is a comparable back to Ray Rice in the league right now, it’s definitely Maurice Jones-Drew. There are some other interesting Baltimore connections in northern Florida as well. For one, Baltimore lost out to Jacksonville in the 1995 expansion sweepstakes that allowed the Jaguars to exist in the first place. Incidentally, before he moved the team to Indianapolis, Robert Irsay was allegedly very close to moving the team to Jacksonville. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was also Terrell Suggs’ head coach at Arizona State. In addition, you can find former Ravens Dawan Landry and Tony Moll on the Jags’ active roster. The Ravens are obviously stronger contenders within and outside of their division, but if Jacksonville improves with Blaine Gabbert under center, perhaps they will evolve into a closer the Ravens and have the Colts become their Steelers. One can dream.
Another squad that has become a Raven refugee camp of late has been the Kansas City Chiefs. Current Chiefs Kelly Gregg, Le’Ron McClain, Jared Gaither, and Terrance Copper all arrived in KC directly from Baltimore. Under Todd Haley, the Chiefs have taken a similar path as the Ravens, ramping up the passing game while coming to terms with the fact that they must run the ball to win. Safety Eric Berry is as special a player as Ed Reed was in his second season, and the 3-4 the Chiefs adopted in 2009 shares many concepts with the Ravens’ base scheme (as evidenced by Kelly Gregg’s signing). Lest we forget, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli is technically an Original Raven, having served as the team’s Pro Personnel Coordinator in the team’s inaugural season after coming over from Cleveland. After meeting in the playoffs last year, it’s clear the Chiefs and Ravens are coming in to 2010 at similar levels of expectation. Both will need to upend the division favorite (San Diego and Pittsburgh) and stave off two other crappy teams.
We’ve identified the Bizarro Ravens of the other AFC divisions. The Jets, Jaguars and Chiefs all work from a similar ethos as Baltimore. Next week, we’ll find four teams in the NFC who share some purple and black DNA.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com