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Football season is officially upon us, and excitement can be felt all throughout the country. Everyone’s favorite teams are all starting at the same position, each with the same goal, to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. In Baltimore,  excitement radiates from fans as they prepare to watch their beloved Ravens begin a new season. While the feeling is felt throughout the Ravens team and organization as well, there is another thought which remains burrowed in the back of everyone’s mind. That feeling is dread. Dread that this may be the last season put together by John Harbaugh. Dread that this may be the last year where the offense is helmed by Joe Flacco. Dread that the team may fail for the fourth straight year in a row. Dread that Baltimore’s fountain of success has finally run dry.

Whether all fans share these thoughts or not does little to ease the stress in Baltimore. Regardless of how confident the Ravens appear to be, and likely are, there is no denying that this year marks a critical point in the history of the franchise. The once beloved head coach, who oversaw unparalleled success now must listen to cries for his removal. The once valiant quarterback, who none dared to challenge, now must fend off the encroachment of a new field general eager to take his place. All of this stems from the central problem that has dismayed the team for three consecutive years. After six appearances in seven years, Baltimore cannot get over the hump, and return to the playoffs.

In a town like Baltimore, where winning is the only culture, losing is a nightmare scenario. The Ravens have been on the doorstep of the postseason nearly every year the team missed the mark under John Harbaugh. Being close to the playoffs, however, is no consolation prize. Fans expect and demand that the Ravens compete year in and year out. For a year to be counted as a successful campaign, Baltimore cannot fall short of the postseason. If the Ravens fail to return to the playoffs, the organization is bound to see significant changes in the very near future.

Pressure is certainly felt throughout the organization, but the Ravens are a team familiar with pressure. Head coach John Harbaugh turned around a hopeless team in 2008 and brought it straight back into the postseason. Quarterback Joe Flacco planned to sit on the bench his rookie season, but because of injuries and illnesses, he was forced to command the offense immediately. Flacco earned the nickname “Joe Cool” not just from that experience. In 2012 he gambled by turning down an extension to try and prove himself worthy of a much more lucrative contract. The gamble turned into a storybook Super Bowl run, where Flacco dominated opposing defenses and achieved the best postseason run any quarterback has ever had.

The Ravens now must return to the team’s old self in 2018. Not only must Baltimore rekindle the fire of years past, but the team must feel and react to the pressure. The journey will be long, and the Ravens will encounter many obstacles along the way, but one thing coach Harbaugh believes is to take everything one game at a time. The Ravens will begin the journey against the Bills. Baltimore must put its best foot forward on Sunday, and start the year strong. And should Baltimore defeat the Bills with ease, the feeling of dread will begin to retreat.

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