After a season of high expectations, Ravens underdogs again

How many times this season have the Ravens been considered the underdog going into a game?

Believe it or not, the answer is only twice: Baltimore's Week 9 game at Pittsburgh, and this week's contest at New England.

Ever since the Ravens stomped the Steelers 35-7 back in Week 1 at M&T Bank Stadium, there have been very few instances where they haven't been considered the favorite either by oddsmakers, analysts or fans. They've been one of the top dogs in the AFC, expected to win pretty much every time out.

But that'll change this week.

As of this morning, Baltimore is a whopping 7.5-point underdog going into this weekend's AFC championship game against the Patriots.

The Ravens have also been given the highest odds of winning the Super Bowl of any of the four teams remaining in the playoffs (they're 6/1, according to Bovada, at least twice the odds of all three other teams left in the postseason).

Looks like the days of being the favorite are now gone. For the first time in a long time, the Ravens are back in the underdog role, although that's not a position that many in the locker room have a problem with.

"We like being the underdog," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We're used to it. I think we handle it better. Psychologically, I don't really know why, but I think we do."

Tom_Brady-fist-pump-sidebar.jpgAfter watching both AFC playoff games this weekend, it's not hard to understand why the Patriots will be such heavy favorites going into Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium. Bill Belichick's squad put up the type of sexy performance that Ravens fans have rarely been treated to this season, crushing the Broncos 45-10 in a game that was over by halftime.

The Ravens, meanwhile, needed all 60 minutes to squeak by a Texans team that was playing with a rookie quarterback who had just six NFL starts under his belt entering the game. Both wins got these teams where they wanted to be; one just looked a whole lot prettier.

The Patriots have won nine straight games by an average of nearly 19 points per contest. They have the league's second-best offense, will be playing at home and have a quarterback who can seemingly put the ball wherever he wants it. All of that screams "favorite" to me.

The underdog label, however, is one which most athletes tend to relish. Guys love being told they can't accomplish something or that people don't believe in them. It drives them to work harder and dig deeper in an effort to prove others wrong.

The Ravens will be back in that spot this week, and you can bet that the vast majority of the national media coverage the players will hear in the coming days will center around Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots' potent offense, not the guys lining up in the purple and black helmets.

Apparently, that's just fine with them.

"Obviously, it's their place, they are the No. 1 seed, they have earned it, they are one of the top offenses in the league," Johnson said. "They deserve to be the top team, but I like being (the underdog). I'm an underdog myself. So, I love it."

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