According to legend, there must always be six ravens at the ‘Tower of London’, lest the United Kingdom fall… There’ll be an additional 53 at least this weekend as the Baltimore Ravens (2-0) take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) this Sunday at Wembley Stadium in part one of the NFL’s ‘International Series’. I say ‘take on’; what I really mean is that this Ravens defense will *take down* just about anyone or anything in it’s path. Having forced 10 turnovers and conceded 10 points in their opening two games, it’s clear that this franchise notorious for legendary defensive players such as future Hall of Famers: Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, is living up to it’s reputation.
This defense, along with the rest of the team, will travel to my home country this week, and as the only British Ravens fan at WUVA, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide you with all the details of what to expect at 9:30 local time this Sunday.
Why I joined ‘The Flock’:
Let me take you back to August 7th 2014: my first ‘football’ game. I only found out on the day before that I would be going! I’d spent most of my life being ambivalent (as most British people would be) towards this sport, quite frankly I found the pads and helmet ridiculous and the hype seemed a bit over the top. But having visited New Orleans the previous year and witnessed the black sea of supporters permeating the city, I was eager to find the cause of such hysteria, so I started following the sport. I just had to get to a game, and realising that there would be a Super Bowl rematch in the upcoming preseason, I couldn’t wait to soak up my first American Football experience. Ever since that game, I’ve committed to supporting the team – they pretty much brainwashed me with all the banners, chants etc. so I really had no choice.
Since then, I’ve never missed a game. I’ve been back to Baltimore 3 times, started hating on the ‘Steelers’, and even dared enter an Eagles game in a purple & black jersey, which sure earned me some filthy looks! Last year I had the chance to meet Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden when attending the game, as well as the cheerleaders.I love my team and will proudly don my Flacco jersey this Sunday, even if I can’t be watching back in London. Despite having watched previous International Series games, and often complaining about the absence of the only real team in the NFL, they’re finally coming to the U.K! And although I won’t be there, I’m sending my representatives – my brother and my dad – to watch the Ravens play their first overseas game in franchise history.
For the past decade, the NFL has been sending over teams to play league fixtures in the UK. From a British perspective, it’s easy to see why. Teams such as the Atlanta Falcons (before the 28-3 debacle) and Jacksonville Jaguars have used the Series as a vehicle through which they can develop their international followings. I’ve seen a dramatic increase in NFL jerseys and merchandise in the U.K. over the past few years, even the garbage teams. The Wembley games are made identifiable by the myriad of different jerseys and colours in the stands; irrespective of your team, the London experience serves as a celebration of the NFL and of the sport of football.
The increase in popularity of the NFL is also a profitable one, with the Jacksonville Jaguars the most determined to capitalise on the potential revenue. After inking an initial 5 year deal that would see the Jaguars play in London from 2012-2016, this contract was later extended through the 2020 season. Why? Because the team’s value is on the rise – it’s risen by 6% in just the last year. Per ‘Forbes’, the team’s value has increased from $966 million to $2.075 billion since the 2014 season, enabling the ‘Jaguars’ to more than double their worth. So I guess us Brits are stuck with them, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Complaining is what we’re best suited to anyway. But it’s no wonder that teams continue seek a similar source of income from international fixtures and growing demand.
What to Expect:
If you love offense and high scoring games, then I’m sorry to disappoint but this game might not be for you. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has had his own struggles throughout the offseason and the beginning of this season, most notably during last week’s 37-16 thrashing by their divisional rivals – the Tennessee Titans. Similarly, the Ravens have had their struggles on offense, with quarterback Joe Flacco still reportedly recovering from a back injury sustained during the offseason.
Defense will be the difference maker. Jacksonville have made numerous upgrades on the defensive side of the football with high-profile free agent acquisitions such as Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye. Conversely, the Ravens have also assembled a formidable defense, using 5 of their 7 draft picks on defensive players. So far this has paid off, and ultimately I see them continuing to dominate against a rusty Jaguars offense, especially after the loss of number one wide receiver Allen Robinson to a season ending ACL tear. Expect a low scoring game with several turnovers, perhaps for both teams.
I know it’s early for you Americans to be watching a football game, but I hope you’re all able to tune into either CBS, Baltimoreravens.com or Yahoo to watch the game. If you bleed purple like myself, you’ll probably enjoy it, but regardless of your team, the International Series is designed for all lovers of the game to celebrate the NFL and it’s growing prevalence.
Score Prediction: Ravens 24 – Jaguars 6