While owning the AFC's No. 1 seed is new territory for John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens, the franchise has received a playoff bye before. On two previous occasions, the Ravens have sat out the first round after locking up the No. 2 seed heading into the postseason.
This will be the Ravens' 11th playoff appearance and seventh under Harbaugh. While the franchise is 15-9 in postseason play, Baltimore is 3-6 in the divisional round, with two of their wins coming during their Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2000 and 2012. Baltimore was a wild card team during both of their Super Bowl runs, with the other divisional round playoff win coming in 2008, Harbaugh's first season in Baltimore. The Ravens have yet to reach the Super Bowl after receiving a playoff bye, something they are surely looking to change over the next month.
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Here's a look at what transpired the previous two times the Ravens earned a first-round bye.
2006: Colts out-kick Ravens as Manning takes a page from Brady's playbook
Before this season, the only Ravens team that had won at least 13 games in a regular season was the 2006 team, led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas, cornerback Chris McAllister, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden, running back Jamal Lewis and quarterback Steve McNair, who was enjoying a career renaissance seven years after helping lead the Titans to their first Super Bowl. Baltimore's divisional round opponent would be Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the rest of the hard-luck Colts, who had suffered several bitter playoff disappointments that started wit McNair and the Titans' upset of Indianapolis in the divisional round of the '99 playoffs.
"The Jets had a package like the Ravens did," Manning recalled in an NFL Films documentary about the '06 Colts. "They had a multiple movement, guys just kinda moving all around, safeties up, safeties back package. The Patriots were doing a lot of no-huddle stuff against the Jets, and it really worked. I just kinda made a note that this has some real merit to it, this type of plan.
"It's a copycat league, this NFL. That little thing, that little quick count here, the quick play there, I think it made a difference and helped us somehow get a win in that game."
While Manning's copying of Brady's game plan did not result in any touchdowns, it did help produce five field goals by Brady's old kicker, Adam Vinatieri, whose five field goals made the difference in the Colts' 15-6 upset victory over the Ravens.
"Getting Adam, you thought about it all year that you got a clutch guy and you're gonna need him at some point and now you get to a game where it's five goals and he in fact made a difference," former Colts coach Tony Dungy. "I said, 'I kinda know what Bill Belichick feels like, with money in the bank.'"
While the Ravens went sent home early, the Colts would defeat the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game before defeating the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
2011: Ravens edge Texans before falling just short of Super Bowl
Baltimore, who won a franchise-record 14 regular season games in 2019, last earned a playoff bye in 2011, Harbaugh's fourth season in Baltimore. That year, the Ravens boasted the 12th ranked offense and third-ranked defense, led by Lewis and Reed.
Baltimore's divisional round opponent was the up and coming Houston Texans, a team led by receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster and pass rusher J.J. Watt. Houston, the winner of the AFC South that season, drubbed Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the rest of the AFC North runner-up Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. Houston defeated Cincinnati despite not having usual starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who would miss the playoffs with an injury. In his place, backup T.J. Yates did just enough in helping lead Houston to a 31-10 romp of Cincinnati which also served as the franchise's first-ever playoff win.
The Ravens jumped out to a quick 14-point lead after the opening quarter, with Joe Flacco's ten-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin extending Baltimore's lead to 17-3. There wouldn't be much scoring after that, however, with the Ravens holding on for a 20-13 victory. In a game that was dominated by defense, Baltimore received one interception by Reed and another by fellow defensive back Lardious Webb. The Texans fell despite receiving 2.5 sacks by Watt, 111 receiving yards by Johnson and 132 yards on the ground from Foster.
Facing the Patriots in Foxboro in the following week's AFC Championship Game, the Ravens scored ten unanswered points to take a 20-16 lead entering the fourth quarter. And despite falling behind following Tom Brady's one-yard score with 11:29 left, the Ravens appeared destined to at least tie the score after Flacco and Bolding connected four times for 60 yards on Baltimore's final drive to get to the Patriots' 14-yard line. But after Lee Evans dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown catch on second down, Billy Condiff's missed 32-yard field goal attempt two plays later ended Baltimore's dreams of a Super Bowl title.
The Ravens, however, did exact revenge on the Patriots the following year. After defeating the Colts and Broncos in the first two rounds, Baltimore put up a convincing 28-13 victory in Foxboro in the AFC Championship Game before winning the franchise's second world championship. Seven years following their 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore is looking to join the Packers, Steelers, Raiders, 49ers, Redskins, Cowboys, Patriots and Giants as the only franchises to win at least three Vince Lombardi Trophies.