Before every Ravens game, my dad texts me asking for my prediction. Because covering the Ravens has been my job for the past decade-plus, you'd think I would be pretty good at this.
Update: I've been wrong all season.
Let's go through the list:
When Ravens started dropping like flies in training camp, I thought it would be a slog to stay in the thick of the playoff race. Wrong. Through Week 12, the Ravens have the best record in the AFC at 8-3. After a Week 1 flop in Las Vegas, I thought the Kansas City Kryptonite would deliver an even worse result for the Ravens in Week 2. Wrong. The Ravens found the antidote in a comeback win. After that, I thought the Ravens would roll into Ford Field and smoke the tires. Wrong. They needed a record-breaking field goal to escape. After the Colts took a 16-point lead with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, I thought the Ravens had been pony kicked. Wrong. They came galloping back to win in overtime. I thought the Chargers would bring on an electric offensive shootout. Wrong. The Ravens defense unplugged them. I thought the Ravens would show the Bengals who is still king of the jungle. Wrong. Baltimore got mauled. I thought the ship had perhaps sailed on Ravens comebacks when the Vikings took their second 14-point lead. Wrong. Baltimore plundered another comeback victory. I thought Lamar Jackson would put on a show back home in South Florida. Wrong. The Dolphins' blitz left him floundering. I thought there was no way the Ravens could win without Jackson. Wrong. Tyler "Snoop" Huntley snatched the honey pot from the Bears. I thought the Ravens couldn't bottle up Cleveland's potent rushing attack without their best defensive player this season, Calais Campbell. Wrong. Baltimore's defensive front forced a Brownout.
See, I'm way better at terrible puns than predictions. Baltimore keeps finding new ways to win, and occasionally lose, every week. And it's not just the Ravens; it's the entire league.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been doing this for a long time now, but when he was asked Monday whether it seems like this year has been particularly unstable, he concurred.
"It sure seems like it," he said. "Just the scores and the standings from one week to the next, what happens is sometimes shocking. It shouldn't be, because we've seen this league, and we kind of know how it works, and we know how even it is.
"I'll say to Ozzie [Newsome] something like that, and he'll basically just smile, look at me, and he'll say, 'It's exactly how they want it. That's how they planned it.' It's the way the league is built, to make everybody very competitive. So, that's what makes it so much fun, I guess."
Predictability brings a degree of comfort. But it also can lead to boredom. And that's the last thing the NFL wants.
It seems the only thing we can count on with this year's Ravens is they'll make it interesting. That's surely how it will be down the grueling six-game stretch to end the regular season.
The Ravens' injuries have left them with a narrower margin for error, which their plus-23 point differential attests to. There are six teams in the AFC with better point differentials. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) system, the Ravens are the 15th best team in the NFL.
So what does it mean to sit atop the AFC right now? It means the Ravens are in good position to make the playoffs and not much more.
Making predictions about what lies ahead in the Ravens' season is fruitless. We can talk about whether they're good enough to win it all, or whether their run of narrow victories will come to a halt when facing the gauntlet of strong teams, but the Ravens are probably going to surprise us at every turn.
If the Ravens do win the division or make the playoffs, all bets are off. The best team doesn't always win (this year, it feels like it often loses). The Ravens may not be the best team right now, but they're definitely one of them, and they're aiming to get to the top of the heap of misfits.
My final prediction: It'll be unpredictable.