The Baltimore Ravens are off to a good start. They currently sit in first place in the AFC North with a pristine 3-0 record. Although its season has gone perfectly so far, Baltimore can’t exactly be ecstatic about how it has earned an undefeated start. Is there any reason for Baltimore to feel good about the future based off its 3-0 start?
Let’s first examine this question from a qualitative standpoint. Over the course of the 21st century, there have been 79 teams to begin the season 3-0. After examining every single instance, I’ve identified three of the least inspiring 3-0 starts since 2000.
The 2004 Jaguars got off to a 3-0 start with a point differential of 7. That’s not 7 per game; that’s 7 total. At least the teams it beat were fairly good. The Jags defeated a solid Bills team that finished 9-7 in Buffalo by 3, the Broncos who earned a wild card with a record of 10-6 by 1, and a lousy Tennessee team that finished 5-11 by 3.
Last year’s Falcons beat the 7-9 Eagles at home by 2, a 6-10 Giants team that couldn’t finish games by 4, and a 4-12 Cowboys team by 11. Sure, the eleven point victory looks good, but that game took place in Week 3 and Dallas had already lost its best two players: Dez Bryant in Week 1 and Tony Romo in Week 2.
Baltimore has managed to beat three bad teams–the Bills, Browns, and Jaguars–like the 2015 Falcons while also barely scraping out victories, with edges of 6, 5, and 2, like the 2004 Jaguars. That’s not exactly the combination that the Ravens are looking for.
Now let’s take a look at this problem from a quantitative perspective. Per FiveThirtyEight, teams that get off to a 3-0 start on average finish with 10.7 wins. However, based off their point differential, the Ravens’ Pythagorean expectation for wins is 1.9. If Baltimore was slightly lucky rather than incredibly fortunate, it would be 2-1. According to FiveThirtyEight, teams that start off 2-1 finish with, on average, 9 victories.
Now, take into account that the Ravens are on pace for nine victories without strength of schedule taken into account. The first three teams Baltimore faced this year are three of the worst teams in the NFL. If the Ravens can only capable of earning a meager edge in point differential against some of the worst teams in the league, imagine what will happen once they start playing teams that are actually good.
Sure, the Ravens already have three wins in the bank and they can’t be taken away. However, no matter how you slice it, Baltimore’s start to the season has been inordinately uninspiring and provides little hope for how the rest of the year will progress.