When the Baltimore Ravens faced off against the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of this year’s playoffs, it was an entire year of pent-up revenge in the making.
If you recall, the Ravens looked like the most unstoppable team in football last season. They had the league MVP at quarterback, a rushing attack that had rarely been slowed down let alone contained all season, and a fierce defense that yielded a 14-2 regular season record, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Like I said, they looked unstoppable, until the Titans stopped them cold in the Divisional Round and sent them packing from the postseason without a single win.
Fast forward to Week 11 of this season and the Ravens were looking for their revenge. That fuel to beat the team that destroyed their Super Bowl dreams only increased when the Titans’ players gathered at midfield on the Ravens logo in the pregame, yelling at the Baltimore players on the other side of the field. It got so heated that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh and Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel even got into it at midfield.
The Titans emerged victorious over the Ravens once again in that game, 30-24 in overtime. But it was another chapter in what appeared to be a new-age rivalry in the NFL. That’s why seeing the Ravens and Titans on the playoff schedule in the first round was as anticipated as any playoff matchup, and it didn’t disappoint.
The Ravens finally got the better of the Titans this weekend, beating Tennessee in their own house by a score of 20-13. But there was no love lost at the end of the game, as the Ravens’ players danced on the Titans’ logo after a game-sealing Marcus Peters interception—and as Baltimore’s players all went immediately to the locker room after the game, they did not shake any of the Titans’ hands. The head coaches met at midfield and shook hands, but that was it.
After the game, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had some heat on his words in the postgame interview. You could tell the Ravens were fired up about this game, and that beating the Titans meant more than just a postseason win; it held the latest matchup of pride.
I, for one, loved every second of it. There were no punches thrown. The game didn’t get out of control. But you know what, if you don’t like someone dancing on your logo at midfield after they beat you, don’t let them beat you. If you don’t like them talking smack all in your ear, shut them up. It’s as simple as that. This may be a game of respect, but it’s also a game of pride, and you better believe I love a good football rivalry that takes that pride to the edge.
So is that what we can officially call this Ravens-Titans series? Is this poised to be one of the NFL’s next great rivalries? Well, yes and no.
On the Ravens’ side, there is certainly reason to believe they’re just getting started. They have the juice on defense, and they seem to add to it with young talent each year. They’ll have better years than others, but they should be good there. On offense, they have Jackson, who is just 24 years old and they have a young core of J.K. Dobbins, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, and a good offensive line in place (when healthy). That should make for a competitive core.
But on the Titans’ side of things, it might not always be to the caliber we’ve seen it the last two years, including a potential drop off coming soon. Ryan Tannehill has been playing the best ball of his career over the last two years, but how sustainable is it? Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown will likely headline the offense over the next few years, which is a good 1-2, but they’ll need more. The Titans could also be losing Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith this offseason, and likely more important than that, their offensive coordinator Arthur Smith could be a head coach elsewhere next season. That would significantly put a dent into how well the Titans could keep up with a unique and talented Ravens team if they were to meet sooner rather than later.
There’s also the fact that these two teams don’t play every year. They are not on each others’ schedules for 2022 unless they meet in the postseason again, and if they don’t, the further away they get from these recent games of tension, the less familiar faces there will be for motivation and revenge.
So maybe this doesn’t have the makings of the NFL’s next great rivalry, but for as long as Harbaugh and Vrabel are the head coaches there, they won’t like each other and their rosters will know that. Because of that, the potential for a heated matchup is there anytime these teams line up, just like it was this weekend in what was one of the most entertaining games of the weekend.